It has been a bit more than a month ago when we had an exclusive all-girl weekend getaway. It was meant to be a fun-filled and stress-free weekend for 7 girls for a getaway with great food, quality bonding, lots of laughs and just having the best time ever. Oooops… forgot baby Z, the only XY-chromosome in our girly group! 😀

On 5th Nov, I have posted Part 1 of our weekend getaway to (O)Porto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. By the way, Portugal’s famous port wine is named for Porto, and Portugal, is one of the world’s most beautiful countries! 

Oh dear, it has been 3 weeks since, and Part 2 was still not out … hmmmm

I’m sure the girls were wondering, and I was right. Last week I met up with X for lunch and here’s our conversation:

X (curious): When is part 2 of our trip going to be ready, or have you decided to stop…?

D: Definitely not stopping. In the pipeline …😉

X: Ha ha …. I thought you have decided to stop !

D (smiling): Nope, am collating the photos first and that’s one big hold-up! The App I’m using jumbled up my photos and they are not in chronological order anymore and mind you, I have more than 10k photos on my iPhone! Argghhh …

X: My condolences to you, then …

D (grinning): Humph! 

Pre-Mortem 

With the majority of us working and/or travelling, AO volunteered to do a research on Porto a week before our ETD. She had BIG plans for us 7 girls and her baby. It sounded just too good, but was it doable? The main point of discussion was whether Duoro Valley was a go or no go in our Weekend getaway. Places of interests and links were attached in an email for us to revert with our feedback.

While X and G had replied, here was my feedback –

Hi ya’ll !

Hey AO, a massive thanks for the great research, indeed. Well done, charbor! I was re-reading your message and noted that getting to the villages would take at least 2.5 hours. That means to and from the villages would take 5 hours and that’s just the travel part and not taking into account the actual time spent there. We would easily lose three-quarters of a day just to get there and back. It’s a pity because I would love to visit the breathtaking Duoro Valley, but due to time pressure (short weekend et al), with a heavy heart, I’ll give this visit a miss. I’m sure Porto city has a lot to offer especially so when it’s a first time for most of us. Oh by the way, I just checked the weather forecast and it’s not looking great, It’ll be 17 to 18 deg C with 60% to 70% chance of rain!!! Hope the forecast is wrong ! So it looks like X, G and I are saying “no” to Duoro Valley. Not sure about C, O and AM. Anyway, since you and AM will be staying a day longer, hence, am assuming you girls will be going on Sunday, if we’re not going in a group, right?. And if you’re going, don’t forget to share your experience with us after the trip, k? 

Cheers and counting down to our Porto trip!!

D

So the road trip plan to Duoro Valley was dumped, as C and O were also not keen, due to time constraints. That meant, AO and AM, the last girls to leave Porto, would be going on Sunday, right?

Erm … afraid not… 

Just a day or two before our departure, AO, the littlest, but feistiest girl in our group (Lolz!) decided a last minute change in plan, i.e. to go on with the trip to Duoro Valley, with or without the group not on Sunday but on the day of our ETA in Porto! The reason for the change in schedule was because of …

 …This !!!

Sunday, 23rd Oct was to be the bleakest of all days. Cold and wet at 14 deg C! Driving along the winding roads to Duoro Valley under a heavy downpour would appear to be too dangerous, so it would definitely be a no go on Sunday to Duoro Valley … BUT… feisty AO was determined to make that trip!

Now the question(s): Did AO go to Duoro Valley or not and if she did, who came along? 

I left the office at almost 9 pm the evening before the trip. I was absolutely knackered and dog-tired; hence I was 100% looking forward to an easy and stress-free weekend with the girls and a baby …

Bem-vindo ao porto! Welcome to Porto!

We left Brussels Airport at 10:50 and arrived at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport at 12:20. As soon as we touched down, our group had to split into two! Yup, the trip to Duoro Valley was decided at the last minute and AO managed to ‘lure’ a victim and who izzit?

The group that left to Duoro Valley took a rented car whilst the group that headed straight for the city took the Metro. Before we said our temporary goodbyes, we wanted everyone to meet for dinner together. We suggested and agreed to meet at the hotel lobby around 7pm, all 7 girls and a baby!

Did we make it? That’s the question …😉

By the way, it was C who volunteered to accompany AO and baby Z and she was happy to be the ‘chauffeur’ for the entire journey up the wine growing valley of Duoro

The 5 of us had initially wanted to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We queued on the taxi stand, but it was just hopeless because there were 5 of us. The cabbie allowed max 4 passengers per trip. A minivan-type taxi would be perfect but they didn’t appear very often, so we changed our strategy and went for the Metro instead. 

The journey to the city centre took about 35 minutes and a single fare was Eur 1.80. For the first time, we needed to buy the Andante ticket which included the 0.60 cent rechargeable Andante card

Taking the metro is by far the cheapest and quickest way to get to the city but I remembered well we had to wait for about 40 minutes for the metro train to start moving. We had lost precious time playing the waiting game .. 

Porto Trindade Hotel

Trindade station is the 15th stop from the airport. The hotel was not an obvious find as the sign was virtually non-existent. We had to cross the road from the Metro and walked uphill all the way to the hotel while at the same time, dragging our luggage. It was probably a blessing in disguise that AO and baby Z didn’t have to go through the gruelling walk that afternoon. 

Goodness gracious!  It was almost 3 pm and we had not had our lunch. Before we checked in our rooms, X asked the receptionist where we could eat the famous Porto signature dish, francesinha. Without a smile on his face, he gave us the name of the restaurant (Café Santiago) and to remember the landmark “Coliseu do Porto“. The restaurant’s just opposite the theatre which is a local landmark and a leading venue for music and cultural events in Porto. Oh-Kay… with a landmark in mind, we shouldn’t get lost, right? 

If I remembered well, I didn’t recall we being greeted by a friendly receptionist. I would describe the staff as professional rather than friendly, except for one super friendly barman, whom we got acquainted with that evening when we redeemed our welcome drink at the bar. He was very helpful and went the extra mile to give us tips on places to visit during our stay in Porto.

When we checked-in into our rooms, we had only 10 minutes to orientate ourselves in our respective room, after which we had  to gather at the lobby and left the hotel in search for that mysterious francesinha

It was not an easy peasy search for that specific Café because we still had to acquaint and orientate ourselves with the city and her surroundings. 

Avenida dos Aliados

From our hotel, we started at the monumental central avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, aka Porto’s ‘reception room’ right in the heart of the city.

It’s a lively avenue during the day, but what a pity the skies were quite grey and it was quite chilly that afternoon as well. The avenue would have been a great place for a relaxing promenade, but of course we did not miss a photo opportunity next to the statue of D. Pedro IV on a horse. He was a symbol of courage and affection for the people of Porto. Behind us in the distance was the City Hall of Porto, situated at the top of Aliados Avenue, at the heart of downtown.


We could not dilly-dally too long there as time was the essence. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that our group was splitted into two. We came as one and we should have stayed as one. With two splitted groups, timing became a challenge. We hadn’t the clue if C, AO and baby Z had the rented car and/ or if they had started the journey direction Duoro. We could only hope and pray that the 2 girls and a baby were danger-free and fine. Therefore, the only right way to do was to respect our agreed timeline prior to our going separate ways. 

And by the way, we still have not found the landmark the hotel receptionist was directing us to, so we walked and we walked and we walked …

The Quest For Francesinha 

In order not to have too many people doing the same thing, G and X were the map readers or navigators.  Girls being girls, little arguments and banterings were the norm. One said north, the other said south. So we walked and walked and walked until we came to Porto’s lively shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina. Part of the street is closed to traffic, making it a mostly-pedestrianised shopping street. Well of course we did not stop there to shop (not yet) BUT we had a closed glimpse of the most renowned “Harry Potter‘s” Café Majestic.  

Harry Potter

Yup! Will talk about that in a bit, because the priority quest then was to monitor the landmark, Coliseu do Porto and our francesinha !!!!

And we finally found the landmark!!!

Yay!!


Café Santiago 

If this café was recommended by staff at our hotel, then it must be good. It was full house when we arrived, so it’s a good sign that it must be more than good😉

We had to wait for a vacant table. What made it more difficult was we were with 5 people. First of all, 5 is an odd number and 5 were too many to get a table in a packed café, so we waited …

We finally got a table meant for 4, so we had to squeeze one of the girls. When the waiter brought the menu card to us, I goggled at the photos of the menu. Only 2 shades of colours: yellow/brown and orange! Where are the greens? Reds? Purples? Whites?


I suddenly felt constipated gawking at the photos. To be honest, that’s not my kind of food, but, hey we walked more than 10,000 steps just to experience a typical Porto dish, so game on!

Francesinha is one of the most typical dishes in Porto. It’s a type of sandwich (toasted bread) stuffed with different layers of meats (cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, beef steak) and covered with cheeses and then oven-grilled until the cheeses just slightly melted. The sandwich sits on a spicy tomato-beer sauce, which secret recipe will never be revealed… well, that did not bother me, because I would not be craving for francesinha in a long while …

We ordered 3 different items on the menu and shared those amongst the 5 of us. We had to be careful not to eat too much as we promised to meet for dinner, all 7 girls and a baby that evening.

By the way, I was glad I got to try the infamous francesinha. For me, it’s once bitten, twice shy. Don’t get me wrong, it was a tasty dish, but it was way too heavy for my liking. I think the other girls shared the same sentiment as I did, right charbors?😉

São Bento Railway Station

After the heavy late ‘lunch’ of francesinha, we were in dire need of more walks. Our next stop was worth the stop. It was a railway station but it was not just an ordinary one. São Bento is the oldest and is claimed to be the most beautiful railway station with its 20,000 dazzling blue-and-white Moorish tile panels, known as azulejos. The painted tiles on the walls illustrate the evolution of transport in the area, as well as depicting scenes of the history of Portugal. 

Oh by the way, we were lucky to be entertained by the local military orchestra that afternoon😀



Churches and Cathedrals 

It’s amazing to see how many churches and cathedrals in quite close proximity with each other in the centre of the city. We have probably been to most of the churches, which looked amazing on the façade as well as the interior. 

It was good to have those peaceful and silent moments once in a while after the fast pacings and stresses of the day to recharge our batteries😉


Birthday Girl

The clock ticked and we were wondering about AO, C and baby Z. Before we headed back to our hotel, we stopped at a pastry shop in the hope of buying a cake for birthday girl, AO, as a surprise, however, the cake shop ran out of cakes. Instead, we agreed unanimously to go for 7 mini cakes (mix of chocolate, passion fruits, raspberries and mangos) at a Specialty Cake Shop on the way back to our hotel. 

Two weeks before our departure to Porto, 6 girls were discussing about giving AO a birthday surprise. In a way, it was good that AO was not around when we planned the small do later in one of our rooms. 

Going back to the hotel was more civilised as we had internet connection and free wifi. X and AO were in contact with one another to get more information about their ETA at the hotel. 

When the 2 girls and the baby finally arrived, the 7 mini cakes were lighted from the candles which G brought with her, and we sang the birthday song in unison while greeting the birthday girl. 

Happy (belated) birthday, AO


2 Girls And A Baby

We were glad to see C, AO and baby Z again after 6 hours or so of separation. Surely there were lots of stories to tell. If not, then what happened in Duoro remained in Duoro😉

And most certainly the 2 girls managed to know each other a bit more, too. What those 2 girls had gone through were completely different than what the 5 of us had experienced that afternoon. It’s like the clash of 5 ‘city’ girls vs 2 ‘country’ lasses. Lol

However, when C shared with us some of the photos, we could see why the Duoro Valley is called the enchanted valley with her magical landscapes. There’s no wonder why this cultural landscape is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

While the 5 ‘city’ girls had their tastes of francesinha, the 2 ‘country’ lasses had a go with Portugal’s most renowned pastry, pastel de nata (Portuguese egg tart pastry). C, with the golden heart, bought some grapes and a bottle of local Duoro red wine that she would later share with us. Obrigada, C!


Full Quorum Dinner @ Restaurant Antunes

Like Café Santiago, Restaurant Antunes was recommended by staff at our hotel. According to the receptionist, the restaurant served local Portuguese cuisines, hence, were not to be missed. Booking was essential, so the hotel staff made a reservation for us. 

The restaurant’s located behind the Metro Station (across from our hotel). It didn’t look much from the street, however, when we got inside, it was packed to full capacity as the locals patronise the restaurant daily. 

Oh boy, it was 8 pm and the francesinha and the mini birthday cake were not fully digested in my tummy and there we were, dining again! I ordered for a fish menu (grilled hake with baked potatoes … yes, boring …) and so did C, G, O and AM whilst X and AO eyed for the roasted pork shank. 

And guess what? THE star of the evening was actually the roasted pork shank, the iconic Pernil de Porco, which was the house specialty. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. The pork shank was HUGE, man!  It was actually very good, 100 times better than my tasteless hake😦

Good choice, X and AO (Y)

We ordered sardines as starter, which were excellent and we also enjoyed the couvert. I’m glad we were recommended Restaurant Antunes because for me, it was a Portuguese eating experience. The service was fast and excellent even though the waiter spoke limited English. Somehow we managed to understand and communicate with no problem😀

If I were to go to Restaurant Antunes again, I would go there with an empty stomach and order their Pernil de Porco

Good thing that there’s someone in our group who’s a meat eater, so we could see what’s on each other’s plate. The culprit will know who I am referring to here😉

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went straight to the bar to redeem our welcome drink. I had their red Port Wine. What else ?! 😀

I think we must have hit the sack at almost 1 am. It was going to be another long day the next day …

Mercado do Bolhão (Porto’s Colorful Market)

After a stuffed and almost dog-tired day the day before, we gathered at the hotel lobby at 9.30 am (after a scrumptious buffet brekkie with a fair choice of cold and warm dishes). AO and baby Z missed the headcount that morning as AO had to return the 24-hour rented car that brought the 2 girls and a baby to Duoro Valley. While waiting for AO, the 6 of us walked to the nearby Trindade Church to have a peaceful and quiet moment. 

When we got out of the church, G, the ‘navigator’ and timekeeper, shepherded us to Mercado do Bolhão, which is considered to be Porto’s most colourful market located in the heart of the city. The exuberant market is found in a 2-tier, rather old building. The market opens daily from 7am until 5pm except Saturday when the traders called it a day at 1pm. Sunday is a day of rest.

The Bolhão market is not a very big market, unlike the markets I have been to in the Provence (South of France). Nevertheless, it has its own charm as everything traded at the market was locally produced from fresh fruits, breads to household items. 

All of us bought some souvenirs to remind us of our stay in Porto. AM was, undoubtedly, the happiest girl on the planet as she bought oodles of fridge magnets to add on to her colossal collection of magnets. Lol


We adjourned to a Café in the marketplace spotted by G, of course😉

In less than 30 minutes, AO and baby Z joined us. And we were full quorum again …

Now off we strode to the meeting point of the Yellow Bus!

Hurry girls ….!!!

Yellow Bus Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO)

A week before our ETD from Brussels to Porto, AO volunteered to order 7 HOHO Porto Vintage tickets online for us. It’s cheaper buying online at Eur 11.70 per tix as opposed to Eur 13 buying at location. 

Our tickets were valid for a day and we could HOHO in Porto as many times we wanted anywhere along the Porto bus tour routes, which were either the Purple or the Orange route/ line. The Porto Vintage included free access with wine tasting to Espaço Porto Cruz, which, unfortunately we did not use, due to a few non-drinkers in our group plus time constraints. 

By the way, we were supposed to take the Purple Line that morning with the aim to go to Matosinhos, but somehow, we boarded the wrong line, the Orange route. 

Wrong line or not, I thought that was a blessing in disguise. To be honest, I’m not a sea person so I did not mind missing the trip to Matosinhos, although one or two girls might be disappointed… Well, we knew when travelling in a group of 7 double X-chromosomes, there’re bound to be some ‘negotiable’ contretemps. Anywhow, Matosinhos was the less recommended place than the other side of the riverbank, Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia by the friendly barman at our hotel. That, I remembered😉

For me, I know I would be back to Porto and I could visit all the places I have missed. It’s not the end of the world😉

Ribeira and Porto River Bank

It was 12.30 pm and the stop at Ribeira was just perfect. Excellent timing for our midday lunch. 

The old town, centered at Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River. I absolutely adore the long promenade along the Duoro riverbank. In fact, the site is listed as World Heritage protected by UNESCO, and represents the famous postcard image of the city. 

The Cais da Ribeira (the Quay of Ribeira) is the soul of Porto, where one can climb aboard one of the many typical boats and take a mini cruise down the river. We had thought of taking a cruise but had to quit the idea because of time pressure. 

I loved the look of the charming pastel houses stacked like blocks of Lego and the narrow medieval streets and seedy alleyways, and of course the spellbinding Dom Luis Bridge. 


We found a nice restaurant on a hilly slope but with 7 and a half people, finding a table was almost near to impossible in a touristic area if pre-booking was not done. Anyway we waited like predators😀

C double-checked with the waiter and he promised to set up a table for us as soon as a group of people left. 

When we finally got a table after waiting for some 15 to 20 minutes, everyone sighed with relief.

Phew

After the more than positive review of the sardines we had at Restaurant Antunes, we ordered them again as our starter. They were so moreish and finger lickin’ good🙂

Before the Porto trip, I have heard a lot about Bacalhau (dried and salted cod) dishes, which are common in Portugal, but have never tried it. Out of curiosity, 5 girls went for the house specialty bacalhau dish, recommended by the waiter. AO went for the squid dish with tomato rice and X, for the pan-fried salmon. 

The verdict? 

I would rather have 20 sardines on my plate than that one piece of bloody hard, chewy and salty cod fish! I was totally disappointed, and so were some of the girls…

In hindsight, I should have ordered that salmon😦  Drooling …! 

X, I want you as my personal food advisor. Lol!


On the other side of the riverbank, I saw the famous Sandeman Porto Wine Cellars, which wine I have used in my cooking or just drink it as apéritif. Too bad, we did not do the wine tasting tour. Well, I’m even more determined now to return to Porto😉

Palácio da Bolsa

After the amazing time we had at Ribeira and the riverbank, we took a walk to Palácio da Bolsa, literally translated as Stock Exchange Palace.

Our visit to the Palace was probably one of the most memorable and flattering moments. 7 girls and a baby were standing at the cashier counter waiting to pay the entrance tickets and guided tour. Guess what? The friendly Portuguese girl thought we were students and charged us student rate which had a 50% discount! Wow! That’s amazing innit … we looked like students *feeling flattered*

When the 40-minute tour started, we met the girl again. She was our bi-lingual guide who spoke in both Portuguese and English.  

I’m not sure about the rest of the girls, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the guide’s stories.

I was busy taking photos, of the floors, ceilings, walls, doors, pillars and what have you. I could see there’s a great mix of architectural styles and decorative arts and the highlight of the Palace was undoubtedly, the Arab Room. I felt as if I was transported into One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The room is decorated in exotic Moorish Revival style. It was breathtakingly spectacular with all the golds and glitters! Simply Wow!


Porto Cathedral (Se Catedral)

After the Arabian Nights’ tour, the girls were debating to either climb the 240 steps of the 75.6 metres high Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower) adjacent to Igreja dos Clérigos (Church of the Clergymen) or climbed a few steps up to Porto Cathedral. 

We agreed to go for the latter, as some of the girls were showing signs of exhaustion. Porto is a very hilly city, by the way. Which reminded me of Rome.

With Romanesque roots, the Porto Cathedral has undergone many changes throughout the centuries. What’s lovely from the square in front of the Cathedral was the panoramic views of the city. There you could view in a distance the Torre dos Clérigos, which we had to forego, most unfortunately…


Livraria Lello – Finding Harry Potter in Porto

We did not climb the Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower, but we definitely walked across the plaza to the most enchanting bookstore in the world, the Livraria Lello Porto. Does it remind you of a scene in a Harry Potter movie? 

Did you know that this spellbinding and unique bookstore inspired the Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts?

Did you know that J.K Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990s and that rumor has it that her inspiration to write Harry Potter began at Livraria Lello?

I did not, until I entered the bookstore. Wow!!

It’s not a big bookstore but the stunning interior and the exquisite swirling stairway with its red-carpeted steps and banisters, impressive mouldings and wooden walls did not prevent tourists from taking non-stop photos. It’s simply dreamy and eye-catching!

Oh by the way, there’s an entrance fee of Eur 3 which is fully redeemable if you buy a book. I bought 2 books, not Harry Potter. Ha ha ha …


Remember Café Majestic which I linked to Harry Potter earlier in this post? 

J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while spending countless hours in local cafés, one of which was Café Majestic along the lively and busy Rua de Santa Catarina.

Ponte de Dom Luís I (The Dom Luís I Bridge)

It had been a very, very long day for all of us: walking, a bit of shopping, window shopping, sightseeing, eating, more walkings, etc. Poor baby Z  was in dire need of a nappy change, hence, AO and baby Z returned to the hotel whilst the 6 of us adjourned for coffee/tea at a nearby Café in the vicinity of the magnificent bookstore. 

And then, it started to rain! 

We had planned to meet for dinner on the other side of Duoro River, all 7 of us and a baby. In order for the 6 of us to get to the other side of the riverbank, we had to crossover walking the double-decked metal arch bridge, the Dom Luis I bridge, that spans the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. 

Due to time constraints, 6 very headstrong girls braved the heavy downpour and walked the bridge’s top deck from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. It was a 5 km walk. None of us thought of stopping or thinking of giving up and going back to the hotel. We just walked on wearing the skimpiest and most lightweight disposable ponchos. Only G and AM had umbrellas with them. I could feel my shoes ‘flooded’ with water. It was an uncomfortable feeling; wet and squidgy, and my pants from knee down were totally drenched. So was my hair. I just hoped not to get sick, that’s all.

And we walked on and on and on …

It was a blessing in disguise (again) for AO and baby Z. It would definitely not be a comfortable walk for both mama and baby, that’s for sure.

 

The night scenes of the bridge and the views of the Duoro River dividing Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia were breathtakingly magnificent. 

By the way, Porto’s iconic bridge was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.

After the seemingly long and unending walk to the other side of the bridge, we were not famished but we just wanted to sit down in a dry place and enjoy some light and fresh seafood.

We found a lively seafood restaurant, Duoro Velho


AO and baby Z uber’d their way comfortably from the hotel to meet us at the restaurant. It was good to see them again and gorgeous baby Z slept through the entire evening at the restaurant closed to his mama’s chest swaddled in his baby carrier.

We spoiled ourselves rotten, stuffed with barbecued seafood and chicken dishes; our last meal together in Porto. Oh by the way, the sardines were huge and not as nice as the tiny ones we had at Restaurant Antunes and Ribeira

We had probably spent a good deal of time at the restaurant because I could feel my pants gotten drier as well as my hair, except for my feet and shoes!  Couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel, though. 

With 7 of us, we took 2 taxis, while AO did a test check on prices of the one uber’d and the other normal. AO, baby Z, X and D uber’d their way back to the hotel in one cab paying a total of Eur 3.80 which was almost 50% cheaper than the normal taxi taken by G, C, AM and O.

Good to know (Y)

Pyjama Party @ Room 702

It was good to be back in the hotel, or to be more precise, my hotel room.  I’m sure the other girls felt the same way. It has been a while and my room was so immaculate, meaning the presence of housekeeping was there. Brilliant!

C invited us for a nightcap of one of Duoro’s local red wines which she got while spending time at the wine growing valley of Duoro on the first day with AO and baby Z

It was a good wine. Thanks heaps, C! Thanks for sharing the wine with us. Hugs xxx


No worries, no one was tipsy. There was only one bottle and 7 glasses of whom 2 had to decline the offer for obvious reasons😉

The evening was still young and we played a ‘game’ initiated by C.

And the game went like this …


Nah …. what happened in Room 702 remained in Room 702…

Hint: We got to know each other (even) better  and thanks heaps, O, for sharing with us the ‘scary’ story😉

And for the … Erm … sorry, my lips are sealed . Shhhh…!!!

It was our last night in Porto together, all 7 girls and a baby, and we hit the sack at 2 am in the morning !

Blue-Black: The Winning Colour!

Sunday, 23rd Oct. 5 girls were flying back to Brussels.

Strange but true, 5 girls met that morning at the buffet breakfast wearing, uncannily, the same colour tops. Blue! And – honestly – it wasn’t  pre-planned.

That colour was to become the magic moment of the day!


X‘s son, DJC is a professional footballer playing for one of Belgium’s First Division Pro League decorated clubs, Club Brugge that dons the  Blue-Black home kit. 

And even stranger and truer, the team had a match while we were flying that afternoon, against one of their major rivals, Anderlecht. 

And the result? 2 – 1 for Club Brugge. Awesome! 

The Last 2 Girls And A Baby

The girls said their goodbyes at the hotel, leaving 2 girls and a baby behind. 

It was a lovely Sunday day and Matosinhos was explored and the girls’ boxes were ticked.

And I made sure to buy a port wine at the airport. It was a 20-year old Tawny Port. One of the finests😀

Goodbye Porto, see you next time!

The 5 girls parted ways at Brussels airport only to be reunited for quick lunches at work weeks.

And life goes on as usual …

Carpe Diem, girls! 

Cheers!

1st November this year fell on a Tuesday. I could have made a bridge for a longer “weekend”, but could not due to my workload at work😦

I was glad to break off work for that one day that week for a yearly family reunion, hosted by one of my SIL’s. While driving to my SIL’s, we stopped at a friend’s house. I received a text message from F that she was giving away some of her ‘harvests’ in her garden. 

Guess what? I hand-picked the chillies in her garden. They were so, very, very fresh! She wanted only the red ones, so I helped myself to the green chillies. I didn’t mind the ‘raw version’ at all, because I knew if I left the chillies wrapped in absorbent paper in the lower drawer of the fridge, the chillies would ripen. 

And I was right!

10 days later, some of the birds’ eye chillies had turned to a lovely bright orange-crimson colour. And I knew exactly where some of the chillies would end up into😉

Thai Chef vs Me

There was one Wednesday that I took a day off and brought my 2 sons out for lunch (Note, both boys had half-day school / Univ on a Wednesday). We went to a Thai resto near our place. 

For starter, I ordered Tom Yum Goong (TYG) for us. It was a good TYG, but I missed that Oomph in their soup. It was a wee bit too lame. 

Saturday came, and TYG was in the pipeline for our lunch menu.

So here it was, my version vs the Thai Chef’s. 


And not only that, I made my TYG in my thermomix! 


To be honest, I could eat my TYG all day without anything else that day, because it had been a while since I last made the soup! I looked back at a post I wrote; it was in March this year when I had friends over. You can read it all … Here :)

Because I love bold-tasting soups, I thought of a way to totally infuse the aromatics in the soup first before proceeding further. Be warned! It’s a highly seasoned soup that hits the palate and warms the heart without burning, if you know what I meant😉

(Note: This is my own recipe using my preferred method – tried and tested – after a few trials and errors).  

Please be aware that some measurements are not given as only you will know how much or how little you want to put in the dish. Remember, “Ut quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum” or what is food for one man may be bitter poison to others. 

Ingredients A

  • 2 cm piece galangal
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 lemongrass
  • 2 coriander roots

Ingredient B

  • 5 g cooking oil / coconut oil

Ingredient C

  • 1,500 g water

Ingredients D

  • Lemongrass, bruised and halved
  • Shallots, halved 
  • Galangal, sliced
  • Bird’s eye chillies, lightly bruised
  • Kaffir lime leaves, lightly bruised with the fingers

Ingredients E

  • Fish sauce, to taste
  • Homemade chilli paste, eyeball for colour, taste and flavour
  • Salt, to taste 

Ingredients F

  • Prawns, shelled 
  • Mushrooms, sliced 

Ingredient G

  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved or whole

Ingredient H

  • Fresh coriander 

Steps –

  • Place A in the TM bowl. Grind 5 sec/ sp 10  * 2

  • Add B. Sauté for 3 mins/100C/ sp 2 
  • Place D in SB and add C. Cook for 15 mins/ 120C/ sp1


  • Remove the SB and tip the aromatics in a bowl. Set aside for garnish later.

  • Transfer F in the SB. Cook for 4 mins/120C/ sp 1 or until the prawns are cooked. 

  • Remove the SB and set aside the cooked prawns, mushrooms, etc
  • Add E. Cook further for 5 mins/ 120C/ sp 2


  • Add G. Stir for 1 min/ R/ spoon
  • Assemble a serving bowl with prawns, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, some slices of galangal, bird’s eye chillies, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Garnish with H.
  • Done!


Happy 1st Anniversary!

I made the TYG to go with my Nasi Ulam and baked spiced chicken. Our Saturday lunch was the bomb, by the way, with full-blown explosion of flavours. Yup, my kind of food🙂


There’s no better way to celebrate my first year anniversary of owning the thermomix than sharing with you some of the dishes I have conjured the past 12 months using my most used kitchen gadget today!

And as they say, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words‘ …


IMPORTANT NOTICE : Please be aware that I’m neither a Consultant/ Advisor nor an employee of Thermomix.  I am NOT paid anything from any parties. I just happened to own a thermomix and love doing what I’m doing and will continue doing so. 

Happy Mid-Week ya’ll!

Cheers!

The rotisserie whole chickens looked so tempting. Every Wednesday evening while driving home from work, I would drive past the mobile food truck on the N2 road from Brussels to Leuven.


I could smell the roasted chicken smoke whiffing past my nostrils through the vents of my car somewhere! It’s oh so tempting. 

I just had to stop. 

So one Wednesday evening, I stopped and walked towards the food truck.

There was only one guy manning the truck that evening. I pointed to the chicken I wanted and some baked potatoes. The guy then packed the roasted bird in a microwaveable paper bag, and a separate bag for the potatoes.

I was pretty certain my guys at home would be beaming with delight from what I had just bought.

BUT … Most unfortunately what you see is not what you get!  The chicken was juiceless and shrivelled when I carved the meat. No doubt it was cooked through, but the taste was rather bland. I suspected only salt, pepper and paprika powder were used to season the chicken. To add salt to injury, the potatoes were swimming in buckets of dripping! Urgh!

Hubby had his last words, “Don’t buy this chicken any more!

I Did It My Way …!

Okay, I did not buy the rotisserie whole chicken anymore from the food truck, but we have had some form of rotisserie whole chicken at home, done my way *big smile*

Oh by the way, I had been fiddling with the flavours of the chicken and I have found the right one, me thinks!

I oven-baked this whole chicken last Sunday and my family of 4 finished the entire bird and licked our platters clean!


This simple lunch was a keeper. It was hassle-free. While waiting for the chicken and potatoes to cook in the oven, I prepared a simple and quick salad. I had the most idle Sunday ever. Yay!


Eureka! 

Here’s how I did it. 

First of all, pre-heat the oven at 190 degrees Celsius.

Rinse and pat dry 1 whole chicken weighing at least 1.5kg. Set the chicken aside to room temperature for at least half an hour.

In a clean bowl, mix together your favourite dry herbs and spices, sea salt and freshly-milled black pepper. The choice is endless, so don’t be shy. Stir well to combine.

Meanwhile, stuff the cavity of the chicken with 4 cloves garlic, 1 lemon or lime (halved), 1 onion (quartered), a few slices of ginger and fresh rosemary. Tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the chicken. This is the trick to keep the chicken sappy AND tasty from inception to end. *wink*

Next, drizzle some olive oil over the chicken and transfer the homemade rub mixture all over the chicken. Then comes the most therapeutic part … massage the chicken thoroughly with the rub mixture making sure every nook and cranny of the bird is being swaddled completely.

Finally, transfer the chicken, breast-side up onto a baking tray, lined with (olive) oiled and seasoned potatoes and/ or root vegetables, onions, garlics and fresh rosemary.


Bake the chicken for 1 hour 30 minutes in the pre-heated oven at 190 deg C. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. 


The chicken may look dry at the first instant, but trust me, the meat is cooked through perfectly and is as juicy and succulent as ever!


By the way, I have oven-baked whole chicken a few times already. I discovered that baking at the right temperature and timing  are paramount execution in getting the best equilibrium.  Believe you me, I have had a few charred experiences. It was only by several trials and errors that I can finally say, Eureka!



My Verdict?
 

Well, I will definitely not buy the rotisserie chicken from the food truck anymore, that’s for sure! 

What can I say, nothing beats homemade cooking any day, any time. Simple as that!

A word of caution though, this foolproof baking is in accordance to the type of oven I own. You may have a different oven than mine, hence, the temperature and timing may or may not differ. And I did mention that it was by several trials and errors that I finally got the bird cooked right, my way *wink*

Have a great week ahead!

Cheers!

Phew! It’s a looonng process, but I’m so glad I DID it … finally, with some help from my thermie🙂

Eating white rice can be rather boring, so to make the staple more enticing, a bit of picasso and van gogh will bring the little white beads to life. 

Making Nasi Ulam is not rocket science, far from it, but there are several steps or parts to consider before the final piece of puzzle fell into place. 

With the lengthy list of fresh herbs and spices that go into making Nasi Ulam, it will not make you feel guilty even if you overindulged. 

I could eat the fresh and fragrant herbed rice on its own, but a baked chicken on the side certainly made my Sunday lunch more complete and a million percent more alluring and tantalizing.

Like so …


Choosing The Right Rice

I have done this herbed rice before using Jasmine rice. I found it was not quite the right type of rice to use. Why? The grains of Jasmine rice clinged and are somewhat stickier than for example the American long-grain rice or Basmati rice.

So I chose Basmati rice, which is easily available in our local stores. It was also easier to handle and toss the rice with the many fresh herbs and spices that went into the rice.

How to cook the rice in the Thermomix?

Weigh 300 g of basmati rice in the Simmering Basket. Remove it from the TM bowl and wash the rice to remove excess starch.

Place the SB with the rice back in the TM bowl. Add 1kg water. Cook/ steam the rice for 18 mins/ 100C/ sp 4/ MC


Leave the rice in the TM bowl for 10 minutes before taking it out to cool at room temperature.

Choosing Your Fresh Herbs 

I have been looking high and low for torch ginger (bunga kantan) but it’s nowhere to be found in our local Asian stores where I live. It’s a shame because bunga kantan is one of the main star herbs in Nasi Ulam. Well, it’s not the end of the world. There are many other fragrant herbs I could find to complement the making of my version of homemade Nasi Ulam

By the way, I used 7 different fresh herbs, of which 4 herbs were bought at the Asian store whilst the remaining 3 herbs can be found easily at the hyper market.


Spiced and Flavoured Ingredients


  • 1/2 cup dried shrimps (hay bee), soaked
  • 1 cup dessicated coconut
  • Salted fish 
  • Shallots
  • Galangal
  • Lemongrass
  • Turmeric 
  • Freshly-milled white Sarawak pepper
  • Coarse sea salt, to taste

Herbed Ingredients 


  • Eryngium foetidum (Culantro)
  • Thai sweet basil leaves
  • Mint
  • Coriander (incl roots)
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Dill

Making Kerisik

Toast the dessicated coconut until golden brown. Transfer to TM bowl and grind for 10 sec/ sp 10. Scrape the sides of the inner bowl. Check the consistency. Grind for another 10 sec/ sp 10. Tip the Kerisik into a clean bowl and set aside.


Toasting the hay bee

Drain the water from the dried shrimps. Transfer the hay bee to the TM bowl. Blend for 5 sec/ sp 5.5.  Tip the roughly blended dried shrimps to a hot pan. Toast the dried shrimps until lightly brown and crusty. Transfer the toasted shrimps to a clean bowl. Set aside.


Dry-frying the salted fish 

I have bought an already fried salted fish from a local Asian store. All I did was to scrape the meat from the bones and head of the fish. I then dry-fry the fish and shred the meat. Set aside.


Chiffonaded Herbs

This was by far THE most time consuming part of ‘the making of’. 

Every single herb was chiffonaded evenly ( or almost😉 ). I did not use my thermie for that because the herbs should end up in thin long strips and not chopped crazy or bruised too much. Patience is key here😉


Assembling the Dish: Le Moment Suprême 

After all the chopping, slicing, toasting, shredding, blending, grinding etc, came the plain sailing and uncomplicated part: the assembling🙂

From white boring rice, I transformed it to a golden colour with fresh turmeric. In went the spices one after another, completely coating the basmati rice. Then came the natural umami flavours in the form of dried shrimps, salted fish and kerisik. The greens were folded in last while going through the taste test before plating up.


By right the rice should be cooled down before the spicing and herbing, but there’s always a someone in the family who would freak out eating cold staples, so I microwaved his plate before serving 😬

Be warned! It’s a dry rice salad dish as there’s not a single drop of gravy or sauce in the fragrant herbed rice. With a stroke of genius, I made a palatable Tom Yum Goong to go with the rice. So no one’s choked at the dining table. Lol!


This is a great dish to bring at potluck. It’s hard work but with some help from my thermie, everything else was straightforward and plain sailing😉


Have a blessed and smooth sailing week!
Cheers!

I have not been baking for a while. It’s at the back of my mind for weeks on end. If there was a ~ quick and scrummy ~ cake I’d bake, then it has got to be that almost effortless and idiot-proof Banana Loaf Cake. Ha ha ha …

I’m glad my boys share the same sentiment as I do.

3 weeks ago (or probably longer..) I bought a nice-looking bunch of Chiquita bananas in the hope of ripening some of them for my Banana Loaf Cake. I needed only 3 bananas, so we ate the rest of the bananas. 


 

While the 3 bananas were dangling on the banana hook to be ripened, my poor guys tried to brush their temptation away. With the cold weather outside, it’s warm inside the house with the heating on. And the result? 3 completely blackened and over-riped bananas with some mouldy white spots after more than 2 weeks of ‘crucifixion’. OH * MY * GOD!!


  

“What are you going to do with those bananas? To ‘hatch’ more black bananas?“My hubby asked (with a hint of sarcasm)

LOL!

There go the bananas … in the bin“, he said, pointing to the dustbin.

I replied with a classic feedback cheekily, “I’ll make Banana Cake*grinning with guilt big time*

Erm… by the way, did I use the ultra black, over-riped and limpy and almost fermented bananas in my cake? 

Uh-uh! Don’t think so … I needed ripe bananas but they were way, way too ripe! So I bought a new batch of bananas and made sure they ripened within a visually correct duration of time. Ha ha …

Here were the bananas that went in my Banana Loaf Cake I baked last night.


Not Once But Many A Time … And The FIRST Time, Though!

The first tutorial I’ve watched on YouTube in making a Banana Bread was the demo by Stephanie Jaworski of JoyOfBaking.com and I have baked Banana Bread or Cake as well as muffins many times since. It’s the easiest cake to bake. And I have done several tweaks and modifications to suit my family’s palates and they usually turned out great, me thinks …

Last night, however, was the first time I baked the Cake with the help of the Thermomix.

Here’s how I did it, by combining recipes of a cake and a muffin.

Sorry for the bad photos as the only lighting I had was my kitchen tungsten halogen lamps. No natural (sun)light. I did say I baked the cake last night, didn’t I? *wink*

Banana Bread or Banana Cake? It looked like Bread but it tasted like Cake, so I called it Banana Loaf Cake! It was super yummy and moist. I kid you not…


Ingredient A

  •  240 g ripe bananas

Ingredients B

  • 125 g butter
  • 110 g cassonade light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Vahiné natural vanilla powder

Ingredient C

  • ca 120 g eggs

Ingredient D

  • 60 g Lyle’s Golden Syrup

Ingredients E (dry ingredients)

  • 255 g APF
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • A pinch of sea salt

Steps 

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius
  • Place A in TM bowl and blitz the bananas for 40 sec/ sp 5 until they form a creamy consistency. Set the mashed bananas aside in a separate bowl.

  • Add B and mix for 3 mins/ sp 5. Scrape down the sides of the inner bowl and continue mixing for another minute to form a light and creamy consistency. 
  • Add C one at a time. Beat for 10 sec/ sp 5 per egg. 
  • Add A and D to combine for 45 sec/ sp 5


  • Add E by weighing the dry ingredients, then tip the mixture into a clean bowl.  Fold in manually with a spatula until the mixture is combined.

  • Scoop the mixture into a greased loaf tin/ pan. Bake for 55 mins in a pre-heated oven. The cake is baked through if a skewer pricked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.



My Verdict?

I LURVE the smell of freshly-baked cakes and pastries, although I am not a sweet-tooth person. The smell that floated in my kitchen last night was heavenly. My boys were upstairs when I baked the Banana Loaf Cake and they could immediately smell baked bananas when they walked in the kitchen🙂

While leaving the cake to cool on a wire rack, I just had to cut a generous slice of the cake (while still a bit warm). It was too tempting for me to let it sit until it’s cooled completely. And by the way, I’m a crust person, so the slice with the crusted end was mine! It may have appeared to look like it’s on the hard side but, surprisingly, tasting is believing and seeing is deceiving; it was actually quite soft and moist (crust et al).   I’m glad I added Lyle’s Golden Syrup. You could add Maple Syrup or Honey. The syrup gave the cake a nice tan colour and made it moistier and ‘stickier’ with a caramelised flavour. I left the Cake on the kitchen table overnight and had a slice for breakfast this morning. The softness and moistness of the cake remained.  Before I left for work, I placed the cake in the fridge. When I got home, I thought the cake would harden while being refrigerated, but no, it remained as soft and fresh. You know what?  This is by far, my favourite Banana Loaf Cake recipe sans nuts.  The next time, I will add some walnuts from my garden!
Have a great week!

Cheers!

When my 2nd year University son came up to me in Feb this year, here’s what happened.

He walked towards me holding a scruffy looking piece of paper.

Me: What’s that in your hand?

Son: Er….nothing

Me: Then why are you coming to me when there’s nothing?

Son: Ah…. actually there’s something I want to tell you…

Me: Yes, go on…. I’m listening

Son: Me and my besties are going for a holiday this summer… to the Balkans, at least 5 or 6 countries..?

Me: What?!! That’s still 7 months down the road and your final exam’s in June. Shouldn’t we be discussing that first?

Son: Well, we’re in a planning stage ….

Me: That’s a good plan, son, and who’s going to pay for your holidays?

Son: Erm…..that’s what I’m here for ….

Me: OH-KAY! Then I know what’s best for you. If you don’t get through your exams, there will be no hols for you. If you get through your papers, papa or mama will not pay your hols, but you have to earn it yourself. Get a summer job! Okay?

Son: Ok, mama *big smiles*

And by the way, he got through all his papers and did his summer student job at the company I work with, but working at the most unaccomodating graveyard shift. You can read it all here: A Mother’s Insane Sacrifice 

But hey, wait a minute! Isn’t this post about 7 girls? And why am I chewing over my son’s story? 

Well, to be honest, there’re some similarities and dissimilarities on both sides of the narratives. 

Ready?

Se7en!

My son left for Skopje (their first stop) with 6 buddies, all boys, in September before the new semester began! The weather was a bummer, with some waterlogged days and some, sunny days. The boys were away for 2 weeks.

I left for Porto with 6 friends, all girls, recently in Oct. The weather was a bummer, with one day when we were completely soaked! We were away for only 3 days!

My son and his mates planned their holiday destination early this year and came to a unanimous consensus to visit the Balkan states plus Budapest since February. They met regularly at one of the boys’ houses to discuss the details of the trip, places of interests, budget, mode of payment etc. 

My girlfriends and I talked and planned about an all-girl getaway via whatsApp, with several destinations mentioned, but no mutual consensus to any one location. It was just a plan, so it seemed …

Our girlie conversation started in March. One of the girls, AO, was pregnant with her second child. Her baby was due in May. For her – inititally – it was a no go as she said she would be in a breastfeeding mode, depending on the date of our trip.

So with the 6 remaining heads, the topic was cooled down for a while and was again brought up in April. That time, AO was in Kuching with the intention of having her baby delivered there. While AO was updating about news and foods in Kuching, the 6 of us decided to go on with the trip plan without AO, hence, on 26th April, C sent out a doodle poll to gather a unanimous and compromised date of our inaugural all-girl weekend getaway. 

Lo and behold! We had a date!!! Amazing… considering it came from 6 double X-chromosomes Homo sapiens. LOL!

The weekend of 22nd October it was! Brilliant, and wait until you hear this…. because we wanted to stay 2 nights, those who’re working had to take a day off on either a Friday or a Monday. We all decided to take Friday off to fly to our chosen destination and came back on Sunday. Yup, it’s a short trip but for goodness’ sake, we are all married girls with and/ or without kids (yet).

Doing Our Own Things

Since the doodle poll in April to secure a date (which was brilliant), we went on to do our own things. Nothing was discussed anymore about our trip, except at fleeting moments when one of the girls, AM, brought up the subject but only to be swept under the rug or fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, AO had given birth to gorgeous baby Z. Due to work, business trips, kids’ activities, football season, exams and the summer holidays, our intended all-girl getaway appeared to be just an ambitious and far-fetched idea/ plan.

Meanwhile, my son and his 6 buddies had settled some prepaid expenses of their pending trip and he was showing me the places and locations they would cover and visit. Mum could only admire…

Midas Touch

August arrived. My family and I went for our ‘ritual’ South of France trip. While enjoying the sun, great food, sceneries and fresh air, I was showing my girlfriends some photos of our Provençal summer getaway, despite the sporadic internet connections at our holiday home in one of the remotest parts of South of France.

 

That was probably the photo that Midas touched. Suddenly a trail of chatty girls started to re-open the conversation that was held back frozen some 4 months before ….

Thursday, 11th August … Full Steam Ahead!

After the girls saw the photos I shared in our group chat, the conversation went full steam ahead …

And here’s how 7 girls made the decision in one evening ! It was a vivacious and animated conversation…. but darn the internet connnection!!

AO: Yup … we really should plan a trip next time

X: We have our trip in October!!

AO: Where you girls going again?

D (with very limited internet connection): Our trip in Oct? Not even planned anything yet! (suddenly, no internet connection/ out of conversation)

AO: Oct will be pretty cold already, unless we head South… Spain/ Portugal

X: That’s the plan, somewhere South. Corsica?

AO: I wanna go, but baby Z has to tag along

X: Where’s AM, our organiser?!!

AM: My questions: Are you still keen on our all-ladies’ trip? If yes (in Oct), (1) where? (2) flying or taking the train? (3) who are still keen to go?

AO: Yes (1) anywhere (2) anything (3) me

C: If weekend, we fly

X: Corsica? Flying… if Corsica. Me

C: We talked about Porto. Corsica is also OK. Flying is best if long weekend. Me, depending on date.

X: C, we had the doodle poll, remember? We had a date… the weekend of 22/10

AO: Are we doing Fri-Sun or Sat – Mon?

AM: First, how many of us going or rather who are confirmed going?

AO: Me, you, X. C maybe. G? O? D?

AM: Also need to confirm if 21/10 to 23/10 or 22/10 to 24/10 or 20/10 to 24/10

X: Let’s wait for G, O and D to respond

AO (deflecting her thoughts): If we go to Pisa from there, train to La Spezia and then Cinque Terre! It’s soooooo gorgeous!

C: I have been there but don’t mind going again. Very beautiful. Italy’s always a good destination. Pisa/ Verona/ Bologna

AM: Are we going for food, sight-seeing, walking or shopping or all three?

AO: I don’t really shop. For me it’s food and views (preferably ocean/ sea)

C: If it’s a long drive to Cinque Terre, then we will need an extra day …

AO: Plus anywhere next to the ocean, is bound to offer fresh seafood

X: It is a short trip, so I would recommend to keep it simple

AO: You’re right…. just saw Pisa’s airfare was soooo cheap, I lost my mind

AM: We go for all – sightseeing, walking, some fun/ excitement, food and some shopping

AO: Ryanair is pissing me off. Their website is ridiculous; no matter which destination I clicked on, it always directs me to Berlin!!! Easyjet is having a sale now…. lemme search..

AM: If I’m not mistaken, D has mentioned no France trip for her

G (just joining in the conversation): I’m going to Napoli on the cruise after our all-girls trip, so no Napoli, please 

AO: Grrrr…. OK no Easyjet

G: Milan, I don’t mind

AO: OK, I don’t either. Any destination for me is good. I haven’t been many new places, always the same few drivable cities

AM: Before we look at air tickets, we still have to decide 1-2 destinations and the 3 dates I mentioned that we are all OK with. Only then can we talk about air tickets

C: I stick with Porto. I don’t think we should spend too much time again on destination. We know we do not want to go too far and make it too complicated. Italy or Portugal. No one mentioned Spain but that is also good. Alternatively, Edinburgh? Or Ireland? Please be quick as some of us need to apply for leave. And make sure kids are taken care of

G: I agree with C on this matter. Ireland is pretty boring. I have been there a few times and no Edinburgh please ‘cos I plan to go there to see my sis in Glasgow.

AM: Does D have wifi or internet access at her holiday villa?

D (back in the conversation): Argghhhh!! Issues with internet connection. So slow. It was fine when we arrived but not anymore.

X: So ladies (1) Porto (2) Bologna (3) Naples

AM and AO: Porto looks OK to me

D: OK with location (I assumed, Porto?), but no France please. Have we booked the hotel yet and what’s our budget?

AO: Take an apartment from AirBNB? Much more fun? Can cook too…

AM: Hah … we are on holidays. Also wanna try the local foods.

D: We all need a holiday! No cooking please. I wanna see places. Move around.. a bit of shopping (souvenirs) and Port wine!!!

AO: Agree! Agree! No cooking …

D: Need to check location to/from airport. Is the place too remote? Walking distance to city centre? Places of interest?

X: Single room or twin sharing? Best to stay around city centre

AM: Twin or triple sharing? Do we need to rent a car?

X: I don’t think we need a car

AM (summarizing): Destination = Porto. Meals = No cooking. Transport = no rental of car. Accom = Hotel

D: Please book accomodation first before booking air tix

C (suddently sidetracking): My initial idea was to go and book into a spa in Germany!! We drive there in 2 cars, then save on flying cost and just spoil ourselves and baby Z in a spa

AO: I would love to be pampered!

C: No need to buy air tickets. Then go out eating in the Mosel area and have a great time

X: I’m easy …

C: Not sure about Germany as well …. Heard some good ones in Austria but that is too far

AO: Aiyah, me anything anywhere anytime OK

C : Are we back to Lisbon??

AO: No, I’m exploring German Spa hotels now …. cos I do love German food

C: I can drive and take 3 more persons. Driving there is approx 3 hours

AM: Please no Germany or Austria, please, please !!!!

C: Why not???

AO: Ok ok AM …. let’s find a spa hotel in Porto?

X: Ladies, are we going to Porto to stay in a spa?

AM: I do not necessarily need a spa hotel in Porto. Depending on the rest, I go with the flow

X: We go there for sightseeing so let’s get a decent hotel

AO: I definitely wanna go out sightseeing, eat local food, then go back spa a bit before sleep

D: Are you sure all of us want spa hotel? To be honest, I don’t like to be cooped up in the hotel. I want to walk and see places …

AM: We really need to come to a certain decision …

X: I’m with D

AM: I’m with D and X

AO: I think it’s safe to say we’ve settled on a destination

X: Let’s park the spa trip another time, ok?

D: Brilliant! (and suddenly no connection …)

AM: How many of us for Hotel? Apartment?

X: AM, D, are you into hotel or Air BNB?

AO: I’m still pinning on AirBNB because much cheaper and allows more camaraderie. With the savings, can splurge on food, shopping …

AM: Hotel and in the city, if possible. I’m not much of a spa person – does not work for me

X: OK

AO: Ok lets do hotel

C: Best hotel in the city …

AO: Yay! Let’s book

X: Lets wait for G and D. For D, it’s definitely no cooking, I know …

AO: Cooking is for future trips that are weeks long

C: I’m a light sleeper, so can’t share room

AO: Ooooh… are we all taking single rooms? I’m OK with sharing or single

AM: I guess it depends. If anyone wants to share rooms, can share, otherwise, she can also decide on a single room

AO (feeling excited): I’m just excited we agreed on a destination. LOL … And I’ve not been to Portugal, so extra chuffed

C: Yay!

D (back in the conversation): Just reading your messages. Catching up. So hotel, OK for me ..

X: We need to book the flights to enjoy the rate

AO: Yes, agree,must get flights asap

D: Once we have agreed on location and place, only then can we proceed to book the flight. But must be unanimous

X: How do we manage the flight booking? Book individually?

D: Not heard from G or O ..

G: Sorry ladies, my phone battery died last night when I was out so only saw messages now. Yeah, I’m fine with Porto. Twin sharing is fine with me. Think I can share with AM since she asked me. As for flights, best we book ourselves, no? Just send the appropriate itinerary to all and we book ourselves

X: I have the flight itinerary. SN Brussels

G: Email or in this whatsApp? So many messages, I will need to read through …

C: Email the definitive is best

G: So Fri to Sun, I’m OK with that

AO: Its only G who needs to get home before Monday is it? Would anyone mind if I stayed one extra night on my own (anyone is welcome to join me, of course). If I’m alone for extension, I can visit my friends in Faro

G: Anyone can stay as long as she wants. I can still come back on Sunday

AO: I understand that majority needs to work Monday. The non-workers are welcome to spend an extra day there with me, optional.

G: I prefer to come back earlier cos Thursday early morning we are leaving on an 11-day cruise. A lot of travelling…

AM: I do not mind coming back on Monday, too

AO: Great AM, we stay an extra day, k?

X: O, are you joining?

O (just got a new job and busy with her work, just joined in the conversation): Read through all the messages… Yes, joining! Sorry, can’t chat long. Need to work.  I go with the flow …

X: Are you going to take with you hand baggage or check in?

AO: One small luggage

X: Please note tickets are non-changeable and non-refundable

D: Hand baggage. Check and go. I’m doing that. Faster.

C: Me, too. Pack light …

D: Wear something warm on and carry light. October will be quite cool

C: Agree with D

AO (the first to book): Wow, me plus baby only Eur xxx total. Cheap cheap cheap! Booked and paid…

AM: Air tix and hotel booked! Yay … our tour begins…

D: Did we all book flying the same hour?

X, C, G, AO: Yup!

AM: Thanks to X who had us speeding up with our booking

AO (sidetracking again …): I’m going to get dining tips! I want that portuguese egg tart …pasteis de nata!!! Seafood!

G: Re the rooms, we have 2 twin sharings and one triple. Since I will be sharing with AM, my guess is that D, X and C will take the triple, right? The extra nights, those who will stay behind can bunk in together. Then rooms issue settled

AM: I have 3 sizes hand carry luggages at home, all Samsonites. Which is the standard size??

D: Check Brussels Airlines website. Allowable carry-on baggage Check&Go is 1 piece, max dimensions 55x40x23 cm with max total weight of 12kg. Note Size and weight apply hand in hand. If size is OK but weighs a ton, you cannot hand carry

X: AM, check the dimensions of your baggage. We are taking the Airbus, so it should not be an issue if you sticked to the dimensions as per D‘s guidelines. I do face issues at times when on biz trips, where they put your luggage away because of the size of the plane but it’s rare..

AM: Thanks X, so far I got checked before because my carry on looked bulky but it fitted to their measurement basket.

D: Again, suggest you carry light and wear warm clothings on with good walking pair of shoes. That should solve the carry & go baggage dilemma. Read its cold in Porto even in the Summer esp at night !!

All Settled and Ready to Go?

Phew!!! The double X-chromosomes managed to agree in record time … in one evening’s conversation!! One summer photo snowballed the effect with X speeding things up. Thanks, X! Note, there was no face-to-face communication, but only text conversation via WhatsApp. Thanks to cyberspace and 7 thinking heads ‘brainstormed’ by a Marketing & Sales Manager, a Communications Manager, a Lawyer, a Business Finance Controller, a former Nurse, a Food & Beverage Expert and a former Flight Stewardess cum Restaurant Manager. We were such diversed personalities, and strong-headed, too, that we even managed to come to a decision, was utterly amazing!

Oh by the way, did you manage to count the number of cities and locations in our conversation?

In case you lost count, at least 13 destinations were hinted at! Corsica, Lisbon, Pisa, Porto, Verona, Bologna, Naples, Edinburgh, Mosel, Nice, spa in Germany, Ireland, Austria… It was a LOOOOONNG list. But Porto was the winner!

Meanwhile, my son and his 6 buddies returned home from their trip from the Balkan Peninsula plus Budapest on 20th September before the new University Semester started. Their 2 weeks hols saw their friendship grew even more. The group was made up of the following students: 2 Civil Engineering and 1 Business Engineering students, 1 Sports Science student, 1 Business Management student, 1 student of Architect and 1 IT student.


Now, how will 7 girls and a baby fare after the weekend trip of 2N and 3D in Porto?

We shall see…

Stay tuned *wink*

Porto, here we come!

 
While waiting for the next part, please hop over to this post: When 7 girls decided to meet …

Cheers!

 

Friday, 19th August. Our last day in South France.

The night before, I told hubby that I would like to re-visit an outdoor Friday market before we wrapped up our Summer hols this year. By the way, we had been to 3 this Summer: the Tuesday market at Vaison-la-Romaine and the Friday market at Carpentras. We had also done the Saturday Flea Market and Antique Fair at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

We never do the same market twice, hence, Carpentras was out. Fortunately, there were 2 other locations of Friday outdoor markets in the Luberon region of Provence. We chose Bonnieux. Bonnieux Friday market was not new to us. We had been there in one of our Summer trips. Loved the charming little village a lot!

 
Bonnieux

We left our holiday home earlier than usual at 8.30am. The distance to Bonnieux is 88 km. 

Bonnieux is one of the many historic “hill villages” in the region. Erm …. did I just say “hill”? Yup, Bonnieux is built on a plateau above the valley. It rests on top of the Luberon hills with a view of the rest of the valley. The first thing we noticed when we reached Bonnieux was the view of the church tower.


And that’s where Bonnieux market starts; around the new church at the base of the village on the small square, the Place Gambetta and extending mid-way up the village. Like all outdoor markets in the Provence, the Bonniuex market is an important weekly event for local residents who come to buy fresh seasonal produce. It’s also an important social centre, ie, a place where the locals meet up with friends and get caught up with the tittle-tattles. On the other hand, for tourists like us, we relished the opportunity to – occasionally – find exceptional deal.


I was happy to see a stall selling olivewood-carved pieces. By the way, I bought my first olivewood piece – a soup ladle – at a Christmas market some years back in Leuven. It was from Greece and I fell in love with the wooden ladle instantly, which my older son fondly called, ‘The Hobbit Spoon’. LOL!

While perusing the many different carved olivewood pieces, I sensed the guy manning the stand was gawking at me. Well, of course I felt stressy. And then I heard him talking, in almost perfect English! That’s the best ice breaker to start my morning.

Hello ma’am, do you need help?  He asked.

I asked if he was the master crafter. He said, “I wish, but all what you see here are made by a good friend. If you noticed, not a single piece is the same because every piece is uniquely hand-carved“. I was sold immediately by that remark. I bought a rolling pin, a spatula, a slice and two cooking spoons to add to my olivewood collection! *wink*


The guy told me that olivewood could last a lifetime. Olivewood is a hard and non-porous wood that will not absorb flavours, odours and it does not stain. A final word of caution from him,” You can use any type of oil to polish the wood but never use olive oil.” Out of curiosity, I asked him, “Why?” He said, “olive oil is the only oil type that will penetrate the wood, hence the grain pattern may fade.” 

Okay, Roger that!

Before I left his stall, I asked his permission for a photo.😀

Next to the olivewood stand was a couple selling artisanal Provençal’s pistous, crèmes, confits and tapenades.

We walked slowly past their stand but the lady was very persuasive.  She hurriedly smeared some pistou on a little piece of bread and insisted we tried. And then the crème and the tapenade and the confit! We must have tried almost all the spreads given to us.

To be honest, I did not like everything I have tasted. A bit too salty for my liking.  I’m glad hubby and I agreed unanimously with the choice of spreads – crème d’Ail, crème printanière and pistou rouge. The three jars travelled with us some 1,000 km from France to Belgium.

In 2012, hubby bought a fedora at the Wednesday market at Saint Rémy de Provence. This year he bought another felt hat at the Friday market at Bonniuex. The lady manning the booth claimed  the hats were from Panama. The price per hat was surprisingly on the cheaper end tagged between Eur 5 to Eur 50, compared to what we saw at the flea and antique Saturday market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with price tags of above Eur 70!! The hats were also from Panama! 


Bonnieux outdoor market is a lot smaller compared to several other markets we have been to, but, nevertheless we loved the colours, smells, sounds and the busy, social environment interacting with the traders, most of whom surprised us with their almost flawless English. 


Curious 

Bonnieux’s steep and narrow streets are lined with renaissance old buildings, most of which are built on top of even older structures. 

We made a curious stop. We saw many people going in a small shop. There was no one manning inside the shop. All we saw were hand-made figurines dressed in period costumes placed on different miniature location replicating an era of Bonnieux

Seconds later, a guy came in the shop and asked us if we understood French. Someone replied ‘yes’, so the guy babbled in French which I could understand a little bit here and there. I later learnt that the guy and his late father hand-built the miniature replicas. Absolutely brilliant!


What’s Up Yonder?

We thought Gordes was high and steep, but Bonnieux was even higher with steeper steps! We seemed to be climbing up and up endlessly. We felt we could reach for the stars! It was amazing to see how the little enthusiastic boy was climbing the stone steps. I couldn’t help taking a snapshot of the lil lad. He seemed to be enjoying the climb tremendously, leaving his Mum, Dad and sister far behind. 


The kid (like my kid) was probably curious to see what’s up yonder! The last 86 stone steps led to “Vieille Eglise” (old church) and the magnificent old cedar trees.

If you are wondering if the church is being used. The answer is “Yes” and it’s opened occasionally for tourists visits, marriages and funerals and special services such as the Christmas Eve Mass. Unfortunately, the “old” church was closed that day because there was a rehearsal for a matrimonial service. Ah well … too bad.

Anyway, we enjoyed the view from up yonder looking down the beautiful view of Monts du Vaucluse, and the villages of Gordes and Roussillon


By the time we got down to road-level, we were famished!

We left Bonnieux and drove 30 minutes farther to Lourmarin.

Lourmarin was such a hustle and bustle little village with its several wonderful cafes and restaurants. It was probably the best place to have lunch after the market. Oh by the way, Lourmarin’s open market day was also on a Friday!


Every restaurant was full house. We were lucky to find a table for 4!

With such a hot day, our colourful summer salad plates were to die for. We licked our platters clean!

Gorgeous!


Reality 

With holidays, it seemed the days were too short! I wished the days would drag longer, because I knew our lunch at Lourmarin spelled our final eat-out in the Provence. And then reality folded in! *sob*

Another reality was, I had achieved climbing up 64 flights of stairs (not steps), walked a total of 49.33 km with a total of 82, 804 steps in 2 weeks (including sedentary days). Yay! Thanks to an App I had on my iPhone🙂

TGIF !

Have a fantastic weekend!

Cheers!