Friday, April 8, 2011

Barcelona, Spain

The last 3-4 weeks have been a whirlwind, and time has flown by so quickly which I am very grateful for. The time we have in London is coming to an end and this journey of mine is set on a different but exciting new course- pending motherhood! The last couple of weeks have been amazing- feeling the baby move, the exponential growth of my bump (and increasing weight), changes in my body and seeing our little bubs on the 20 week scan. The latter brought a tear and a smile to my face.

In all that time, we also had the priviledge of Bern's dad company. Joining us in Spain for a week and then two weeks in London with us was a lot of fun. Hence, I have had very little time to blog. On top of that, I have been busy organising our move back home.

The week spent in Spain was a godsent. Sunny days with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Celcius was what we really needed. Bern and I were looking a little pasty from the long and harsh UK winter. The sunshine gave us a spring in our step and I could not recall feeling so good in awhile.

Our holiday started in Barcelona- a city full of Anton Gaudi's architecture. The most famous would be the basilica (pictured above). It is the most interesting and unique church that we have seen so far on our travels. You would be forgiven if you thought the church was built in the modern era, as Gaudi's vision was very futuristic for his time.

This is a must-see place and make sure you get there early as the queue is super long.

The inside of the church- very modern in design.

Another Gaudi structure. I can't remember names. Pregnancy makes you forgetful and clumsy, and my mind was mostly focused on what my next meal would be.

Another place worth a peek would be the Central Market off The Rambler (a main street in Barcelona). Here, you would find the most amazing array o fruits, cured meat and seafood.

Jamon galore- Spain's most famous cured meat. The other is the sausage, called chorizo. Chorio is heavily scented with paprika and chili. Yummy in a paella.

There are also alot of lovely sidewalks and streets in Barcelona just to take a stroll on a lovely sunny spring day.

The pier and beach is also of walking distance.

Other places of interest was th National Musuem. Worth a climb to the top, where you could see the whole of Barcelona.

After seeing all that fresh seafood at the market, we decided to have a seafood platter at one of the restaurants by the beach. Much to our disappointment, the prawns were not fresh! The shell was stuck to the flesh, so we left most of it untouched. The restaurant then gave us a half priced discount on the dish. But I would rather have had a good meal. That was real sad... :(

Friday, February 25, 2011

V Zatisi, Prague

Before we went to Prague, Bern made reservations at a restaurant called Bellevue, which is suppose to be one of the best places to eat in Prague. But at last minute, the restaurant cancelled on us because of a private function. They suggested their sister restaurant, V Zatisi. Since we didn't know where else to go, we gave it a go. And we were so glad we were not disappointed- a complimentary bottle of champagne (which I only had sips) also helped. As usual, when we go all out on a luxe meal, Bern is always keen on the degustation.

The amouse bouche was a scallop ceviche - really yum! (Only when I ate it did I realise that the scallops are probably raw?? OOooppss.. no raw stuff when preggers)

Then it was a really silky pumpkin soup. Delish...

Followed by pan fried foie gras slices on brioche with a pear salad. Up till now, we've only had foie gras in pate, not the real thing cooked like this! It was so indulgent...

Unfortunately for me, I only had a small slice off Bern's portion. Yet again, not allowed liver porducts when pregnant! Too much Vitamin A is toxic for the little bub.

I had to swap mine for tiger prawns, which was really yummy too. One had a squid ink sauce and the other was ginger sauce with a couscous salad in the middle.

Next up was the fried sea bream on a bed of baby potatoes and peas with a lemon sauce. So simply yet so scrumptious! I think this was my favourite dish of the night....

I think Bern's fav (after the foie gras) would have to be this herb-crusted lamb cutlets with a potato fondant and red wine reduction. One of the best I've had too! Such classic French cooking...

And finally (or so we thought), vanilla creme brulee with wine soaked plums and butter biscuits. I always love making the first crack in the caramel with my spoon !

And to end the meal, petit fours of chocolate eclairs, baklava and madelines.

If you are ever in Prague, dinner at V Zatisi is an experience you will never forget. If you are not keen on a French degustation, there is a Bohemian degustation or you can always go a la carte!

Prague, Czech Republic

Bern and I have just returned from a 4 night trip to Prague, a beautiful and romantic city even despite the weather being a litle cool this time of the year (top temperatures of 0 and -1 degree Celcius). Four days is plenty of time to enjoy the city in a relaxed manner. Above is the famous Prague Castle situated along the Vltava River and the visible towers are from St Vitus church situated in the middle of the castle.

Charles bridge which is flanked by many ancient statues is a great way to walk to the castle. As we stayed in a hotel that was quite central (Imperial Art Deco- a great place ot stay, I might add), most tourist sites are of walking distances.

I have to say that my favourite building is the majestic Church of Our Lady before Tyn, located at the Old Town Square which was built in the 14th century.

We also had a chance to meet up with a colleague of Bern's who now lives in the Czech republic. He was kind enough to show us around for a day and took us to an authentic Czech pub called U Pinkasu. We had a few intersting dishes at this pub. The above dish is worth a mention probably because I would probably not eat it again. The left of the picture depicts fried pork fat (which was quite nice) and the sausage in the middle was a pork blood sausage. Bern's friend pierced it with a fork and alot of fat oozed out of it and the contents were actually quite soft (not like a black sausage). I was game enough to try it, but that is all I would say. To the right of the sausage is stir fried greaves (a nice word for spare parts of any animal) topped with fried onions. Another dish that needs an acquired taste.

Another random fact- the first Pilsner Urquell beer was drawn from U Pinkasu in 1843.

After dinner, we walked back to the Old Town Square to admire the Astronomical Clock which is on the southern side of the the Town Hall which was built  in the 14th century. At noon each day the clock will ring. It starts with the angel of death, depicted by a skeleton on the side of the upper clock ringing a bell. Then two small windows above the clock opens and statues of saints (I think) appears and rotates in the window. The whole things last only a couple of minutes at noon each day. Be ready to crowd with other tourists to watch it.

More pictures of the Church of our Lady before Tyn

This is the Old Town Square during the day. The building on the left is the town hall with the astronomical clock.

We also climbed to the top of the Town Hall and had a good view of Prague. Unfortunately, it was a lttle too cloudy. I can imagine what it looks like in summer though.


The main attraction would be the Prague castle. Bern and I pretty much spent a whole day there just admiring the architecture and history.  I won't bore you with any details- at the end of the trip, I was information overloaded as usual! So I'll just describe some of the things that you can expect to see. The above is the St Vitus cathedral.

Inside the cathedral with its vast hall and high ceilings.

Rozmberg Castle

Vladislav's Hall with late Gothic desgins

Church of All Saints

Chapel of the Holy Cross

We also spent an afternoon browsing the National Museum. It is very grand insde but you actually have to pay to take photos. Bern sneaked some in anyways!  :)

On the last night, we went to watch Swan Lake. A ballet with music from Tchaikovsky depicting the story of a girl that had been cursed and turned into a swan. A prince then falls in love with the swan but was tricked into marrying someone else. Unlike the current hit movie Black Swan, this had a good ending. Would love to visit Prague again in the future - especially when the weather is warmer.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Afternoon Tea, London

The good news is that I am pregnant! Currently 14 weeks. That meant that the last 3 months was spent feeling under the weather with fatigue and nausea. Hence the lack of blogs or even basic things like cleaning the house. Seems like all energy was zapped out of me and used for baby-growing. But I'm glad that I am starting to feel better and the best thing about it is that my appetite is back. Phew! At one stage, I was so aversed to the smell of raw meat and seafood. That meant no cooking. Poor Bern! :)

A couple of weeks ago, I turned 29. The big three zero is just around the corner. EEeeekkkKk. That is a scary thought. Better not think to hard about it.
Anyway, our lovely friends back home in Melbourne sent me a birthday voucher - afternoon tea for two at the Marriott. The Marriott at County Hall opposite Westminister had all the English charm and grandeur anyone would expect. Afternoon tea was served in its Grand Library with views of the gorgeous Thames, Parliament House and Big Ben. You can't help but feel quite relaxed after being seated in one of their big plushy armchairs serenaded by a pianist.

Apparently, the English afternoon tea was started by some Lady back in the 18th century after she described a 'sinking feeling' felt between a light lunch and dinner. So she decided to invite a few friends over for tea and light refreshments of finger sandwiches and sweets. And during these sessions, the ladies would catch up with the latest news (more like gossips) among the upper crust of society. It became so popular that the tradition continued till this day.

When seated, you are asked to select your choice of tea. This was made simple as they give you a tea box with jars of tea leaves whereby you could smell the tea before you order. My choice was of A Robois, orange and cinnamon tea and Bern stuck with the traditional Earl Grey to be served with some sliced lemon. The teas were excellent.

Needless to say, the three-tiered platter with mini morsels of food was very delightful. The scones were probably the best I've ever had- served with clotted cream and jam.

After such an indulgent afternoon, we took a stroll down the river and watched the sun set. Perfect way to end the day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lake Como, Italy

The last two months have been a whirlwind  of experiences, especially with the chaotic weather across Europe.Thank goodness we managed to get to all our holiday destinations and the only hiccup was a slight delay back to London at the end of the trip. I feel really sorry for all those people stuck at airports in the freezing cold, and were not able to see their loved ones especially during Christmas.

As for our holiday, where did we go for a couple of weeks in Dec? Well, it is a place that really should be paradise on earth- a town called Bellagio at Lake Como. I would love to come back during summer and enjoy the lake a bit more- maybe some fishing! But the place is also unique in winter with snow-capped mountains and the beautiful misty lake. Very surreal and peaceful to have a stress-free time. And whom better to spend some chill-laxing time there with a couple of mates.

We first flew to Zurich, before catching the train to Como the next day. The train journey (about 3 hrs long) itself is an experience on its own. The pics below will explain it all...

From Como, it is a 45 minute breath-taking ferry journey to Bellagio.

We stayed at this service apartment called Pescallo apartments. Very homey and has a well equipped kitchen and a fantastic lakeside view. The image below is taken outside the apartment at sunrise.

But what is a trip without food? And wine for the boys? We actually ended cooking many meals at home. There is a beautiful deli and fruit grocer that sells amazingly fresh pasta and antipasti. The quality of the fresh produce here is the best I have tasted. The most memorable was the yummiest persimmons I have ever tasted.

There were many persimmon trees around- interesting how there are so many fruits but very bear otherwise!

Other than over indulging in food, we made two side trips. One was to another lakeside town called Verrenna where we climbed to the top of the hill to take some magnificent shots.

The other day trip was to Milan, where we visited a really beautiful gothic church, the Duomo in Milan. As you can see, there was a Christmas market nearby as well. Loved the roasted chestnuts! The day was not uneventful when we lost our friends for about half an hour. Luckily we managed to find each other (thank goodness for mobile phones).

Definitely an experience to remember!