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Reflections 2020 – A Year Like No Other

As we sang the Auld Lang Syne, clinked champagne flutes with the sounds and flares of the fireworks in the skies and bade farewell to 31st December, 2019, we had zero notion what would await us all at the turn of the year. Looking back to my 2020, my 365-day page was devoted almost entirely to the big C word that has drifted by with the passing of the 4 seasons (and counting …?)

In retrospect, there is probably one magic word that befits anno 2020: resilience. It is amazing how in the course of a few months we have been tested on our bouncebackability. Our ability of being adaptive and creative have been phenomenal.

Here is a snapshot of my diary of the year 2020 like no other.

Wedding of the Year

2020 could have been the year with a record number of weddings. Without a doubt, it was truly a blessing in disguise when my brother in Canada sent out early wedding invitations in 2019 to meet in Kuching for the wedding of his eldest son. The matrimonial vows were exchanged on 30th January, where families and friends hugged, laughed, shook hands and cried tears of joy. Here’s the write up of the wedding of my nephew and Nanako: Wedding

Wedding of Ivan & Nanako

And then, the invincible invisible enemy crushed all hopes of all planned weddings in 2020. No church weddings, no banquets, no friends or families allowed. It’s gloomy days ahead for a long time.

Traffic Lights

The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March and lockdowns began in countries around the world. I would not have imagined that the colours of the traffic lights would dictate our way of living, but it had .… uptil now!  Teleworking had been the new norm. I have been working from home since mid-March and it has been almost 10 months down the road.  It was good at first as I hated the morning rush hours.  When the days turned to weeks and then months, WFH seemed like an added chore, a drudgery of sorts. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either. Let’s just say, it’s growing on me.

I did go back to my office 3 times since our first lockdown in mid-March.  Although my office is prepared to have the employees back to the building, however, with the protocol of measures in line with the Fed Government’s, return to office is still not recommended.

Our ‘welcome’ pack
Basement parking for 200+ cars has never been this empty

Creative Minds

For many people, looking back at 2020 is painful and frustrating. Keeping our distance from loved ones, friends and colleagues or not being able to attend a funeral, reunion party, potlucks, film, concert, workshop, meetings all led to isolation, hence a new word is born, “social distancing”. The introverts did not mind that, but definitely not the extroverts!

The corona virus might have taken the centre stage, but 2020 was also a year full of NEW ideas, NEW initiatives, fun and loving moments.

By the way, a surgical mask that cost a few cents became the most sought after item in 2020. When masks were nowhere to be found or sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, people were forced to get creative. YouTube Channels were exploded with tutorials and ideas of “how to make your own mask”.  Millions made DIY masks.  I was intrigued by the idea but the execution never got off the ground. I still have a bagful of cotton towels, mini sewing kit, filters, elastic band spools, untouched.  When I wanted to start making my own mask, we received free masks from our commune, my company and from some friends. Not long after that, surgical masks were once again, allowed to be sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, but no longer at the price we knew pre-Covid. 

We were told during the lockdown to stay healthy, to move around the house every so often despite the movement restriction order outdoors. It ain’t easy for the outdoor types, the extroverts.  While swimming pools and gyms were closed, the free outdoors became the new ‘fitness centres’ of our world.  There’s no stopping walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists working out in the woods and parks daily or weekly.   Mind you, bicycles, sports suits, walking/running shoes and dumbbells were hot items in 2020, and pets, Netflix and Airfryer, too!!

And I just had to jump on the bandwagon!

How creative can a human mind be with a bad hair day during lockdown become a norm? When nonessential shops like a hair salon are closed for months, my hair was growing in all directions. YouTube seemed to have read my mind like an open book. Suddenly a video of an interview with George Clooney by Jimmy Kimmel appeared on my recommended feed.  It was not just an interview but a surprising confession from the actor that he cuts his own hair … with a vacuum cleaner, aka Flowbee! After checking out all the Flowbee videos, I told my boys, “I want a Flowbee!, too!” Unfortunately, it’s an American product and it’s only available in the States, and they’re all sold out! Helaas!

Instead, I watched my boys having fun cutting each others’ hair while I snipped mine myself blindly …

Short and Crisp

Speaking of YouTube channels, I noticed so many new accounts created since March: all for the sake of entertaining the lockdowners. Some channels made it big in such a short span of time. I love watching musicals, singers and songwriters and one that stood out is a father-and-daughter vocal duo, Mat and Savanna Shaw. Their debut video cover of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” published in March, garnered 8 million views (and counting), as I write. They have since published global livestream concerts and made their debut Christmas album in less than 10 months of owning a YouTube Channel. And I’m still watching them uploading perfectly harmonious songs. That makes me absolutely happy during this lockdown.

I’m afraid I am not one who has the patience to watch a lengthy movie in one sitting. Give me a good short story of 30 minutes or less at one sitting and I´d binge watch the videos in one night.  Omeleto is my favourite pitstop and CGI animated short films is another.  JinnyboyTV and Wong Fu Productions published quality videos with great acting and stories that are relatable with Asian values. 

Corona Summer

Summer 2020 was unlike any other summer. Airports were deserted. Commercial Planes were not flying, trains were sporadic. Many opted for a trip close to home, famously coined as “Staycation”. It was a hard decision for us, too, cancelling our trip to London via Eurostar. Infact, for ALL of us in these difficult times. We did, however, make a mini trip in September by car. We were very careful, maintaining our distance and adhering to the corona protocol and measures during our entire stay in South France.

Once a popular destination, all were quiet and almost deserted, but it was a much needed break for us. In hindsight, I’m glad we made it…

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Daudet’s Windmill, Fontvielle
Arles
Les Baux de Provence
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Provence

The Pass that Failed

When the Belgian railway company launched the free pass “Hello Belgium” by promoting travel within the country, valid from 5th Oct 2020 for 6 months, I was thrilled. I had bookmarked a trip to Bruges with my son, but hey-ho, it was not meant to be. Belgium was flagged ‘red’ and entered into a stricter 2nd lockdown on 1st Nov when cases surged. There goes my free pass. It failed!

A Cancelled Concert: Despair vs Hope

Perhaps the most disappointing news was the cancelled live tour of my newfound favourite singers, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Josh Lee Turner, Carson McKee, Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren. Their live concert in Belgium in November where my husband and I were supposed to go, was cancelled.  So we are reliving their music in our home and keeping our ears and eyes opened for new dates of their live concerts.  Fingers crossed!

To keep the live musical theme alive in our home, we are listening to our 2 boys making music, yes, making and singing. Feeling blessed

Counting Bubbles

“Bubble” during this pandemic means social contacts.  How many contacts we could have were decided by the Government in alignment with the number of cases locally and regionally. Currently, Belgium allows only 1 cuddle contact (“knuffelcontact”) who does not belong to our own household.  This “close contact” implies contact that lasts more than 15 minutes without having to maintain the social distance and wearing a face mask.

As far as I could remember, the number of bubbles in Belgium have been fluctuating like a yo-yo between March to December: from 2 to 4 to 15 and down to 10 and then to 4 and currently, to one lone ranger.

Bustling Kitchen

My kitchen has never been used so much the past 10 months. I was on my toes daily, balancing kitchen activities and office work. It was doable in the initial stage. I was like a duracell bunny hopping around the house with my daily chores and prepping daily meals for my menfolk.  It was exhausting, so I thought the right way was to slow down and leave the cooking to either my older son and/or order takeaways.

Here were some snapshots of the memories of my bustling kitchen ideas, savouries and sweets

When I was weary, down and out, I passed the baton on to my older son. Here’s the outcome …

While I am not in the mood to cook, and the older son flashes his white flag, I had to resort to ordering takeaways. Here are the results …

Time will tell

A year in review might suggest that the moments are behind us, but what anno 2020 has shown is the events that will last a lifetime

Both my boys had to follow their University courses online.  With lots of patience and determination, my older son graduated with his MSc degree last year. My younger son, on the other hand, is showing signs of losing hope.  Hang on there, son.  Hope works with Time and Time is capable of understanding how valuable Hope is.  

The UK finally exits the EU and Time will tell how and what the future will be

The world stood still, but Time is catching up with us. We experienced a lockdown, felt vulnerable while the virus made a major impact on our daily lives. We had to get used to the new normal and the universal 1.5m social distancing, a word we had never used pre-Covid days. Shaking hands, attending a party, travelling and grabbing a shopping cart have not been the same and Time will tell if we will (ever) get back to our previous norm.

Following a public vote, “Knuffelcontact” has been named Word of the Year by the Van Dale Dutch language experts. The word literally translates to “cuddle contact” or “hug buddy” and refers to a close contact outside of one’s household in alignment to COVID-19 regulations. 

The world stood still, but many have enriched their lives by staying healthy, eating right and being closer to their loved ones who are staying apart.  It’s just a ZOOM away.   

I look forward to the prospect of a new year in which we can see each other in person, give a hug and pass one another in the hallway with a visible smile on our face and a simple “Good Morning” 

The fact that our freedom was limited the past year did not make it easy for all of us. But I know, we’ll come out of the rut year stronger than ever before!

Here’s to a Healthy, Happy, Stronger and Safer 2021 and to all Mothers-to-be and Grannies-to-be, enjoy a new Life in your lives.  2021 is one hell of a baby boom year. The Stork is working overtime in the Year of the Metal Ox.

Cheers!

Family · Informative · Leisure · Personal · summer holidays · Travel · Tuscany

My unforgettable memories of 4 Chianti towns up on the Tuscan Hills in Italy (Part 1: Gaiole in Chianti)

There are actually 5 Chianti towns perched on the hillside of Tuscany, in Italy. We have explored 4 of the 5 Chianti towns. The one we did not go to was Lecchi in Chianti. It was less than 3 km from the holiday home we stayed in San Sano. It’s the smallest of the 5 Chianti towns, quite similar to San Sano, hence we gave it a miss.

To give you an idea where Chianti is on the map, here’s a scratchy but ‘magnetic’ image of the map of Tuscany 😉

Gaiole in Chianti

Gaiole in Chianti is one of the five main Chianti towns in Tuscany. We stayed in San Sano in the summer of Aug 2018. Gaiole was about 9 km away. By the way, San Sano lies in the commune of Gaiole.

All Chianti towns are best remembered by the iconic rooster standing resplendently before entering the centre.

That’s the very reason why we see the distinctive insignia on all Chianti Classico bottles, the silhouette of a black rooster on a white background, surrounded by a burgundy ring. Chianti Classico is considered the most traditional wine made within the original production zone of the 5 Chianti towns. Chianti wine produced outside the geographical area is simply called, “Chianti”.

With only one tiny and crammed grocery shop in San Sano, we did most of our groceries at our favourite Coop supermarket in Gaiole.

And here were what I have prepared in the most challenging kitchen with no chopping board, blunt knives, broken pair of kitchen scissors, insufficient pots, pans and serving plates with ingredients bought at the Coop supermarket in Gaiole in Chianti.

But, hey! I got by, hopefully? 😉

Market Day in Gaiole

If you have read my posts of our summer hols in the Provence, I mentioned my love of the outdoor markets. It’s all part of the fun, the sun and the local ambience, the colours and smells and strolling and exploring the unending quaint streets.

Market day in Gaiole is the second Monday of every month. I was excited at the thought of going to one up on the Tuscan hills. But alas! Poor Gaiole only boasts of one stretch of road with only a few stalls.

However, it wasn’t the market that enchanted us that day, it was a shop, called L’Eroica. Gaiole in Chianti is perhaps the best known town as the starting point and birthplace of the cycling route of L’Eroica.

No wonder we saw serious bikers taking the route every time we drove past Gaiole in Chianti. The L’Eroica shop tells all with curious passers-by popping in 😀

We had wanted to spend the entire day at Gaiole but it was not meant to be. We headed for the unplanned trip to Siena, instead. Ha ha …

Next up: Radda in Chianti

See you there!

Ciao!

Did you know? · Feel-Good · Informative · Italy · Personal · summer holidays · Tuscany

Florence, capital of Tuscany, Italy

Unlike the trip to Siena which was impromptu, our trip to Florence was planned on a Sunday. Hubby was of the opinion that the roads to Florence on a Sunday would be less congested, as most people would stay home. He was right.

We left San Sano at 8.30 am and arrived at the city of Florence at 10 am, giving us plenty of time before our tour at the Accademia Gallery commenced at 11.30am.

Hubs bought the “skip-the-line” admission with private tour online, for both Galleries: the Accademia and Uffizi.

If you’re wondering why we drove all the way to Florence just to go to Museums, you will find out why the Accademia and Uffizi Galleries are the epitomes of what summed up the city of Florence.

With the ample waiting time, we explored Florence on our own.

The first instance I entered Florence was, Wow! What a lovely view from afar! I knew what lay beyond the bridge would be a discovery of even deeper artistic heritage and treasures left behind by the many God-given sculptors and painters of the past centuries.

Walking into the streets of Florence was like going back in time. One thing’s for sure, you cannot visit Florence without wandering freely the fully pedestrianised Piazza del Duomo. The picturesque square lies in the heart of the city, surrounded by restaurants, cafés, shops and of course, the magnificent sights of the Duomo, the Bell Tower and the Baptistery, all these have become the ultimate tourist hotspots! So you could see it was just impossible to have a selfie or snapshot without being photobombed by unexpected or unintended appearances lurking in the background of your photos. I’m sure I have appeared on their photos as much as they, on mine. Ha ha ..

Time To Go …

No, it was not time to leave the city, but time to meet our guide outside the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Gallery of the Academy Of Florence). It was 11.30am.

Our guide was Carla. We were a small group of 2 families, us and a family from Seattle.

Suddenly, we became very attentive ‘students’… Afterall, the museum was founded as a teaching facility for the Academy Of Fine Arts students.

And by the way, Accademia Gallery is home to Michelangelo’s David. That’s right, the one and only.

Now, will the real David, please raise your hand?

The David on the left stands on the Palazza Vecchio while the David on the right stands handsomely as the centrepiece of the Accademia Gallery in the most visited room, called the Tribuna del David.

Both Davids are ceaselessly surrounded by tourists wanting to have a closer look at the 5.17m (17ft) tall Biblical hero.

The David stand-in or ‘imposter’ or replica or copy ~ whatever you want to call it ~ gets photographed as much as the real David, but coming all the way to Florence, and not seeing THE David that was sculptured by the godly hands of THE Michelangelo Buonarroti, would be a big fat waste of time.

Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he was challenged to sculpt the young shepherd David. He was presented with a simple and ugly looking slab of marble piece BUT he succeeded in creating the most breathtaking masterpiece of gleaming white marble. It took him over 2 years to complete the massive task (1501 – 1504).

David In Full Circle

It’s only at the Accademia Gallery that we could admire Michelangelo’s David from a close distance, ie admiring the perfection and magnificence of the colossal statue 360 degrees!

My favourite angle of David is his right side, from the right hand up to his neck.

Why?

Because the ONLY way to appreciate this angle is to appreciate the work of Michelangelo. Just look at the veins on David’s right hand, his arm and neck! It’s pure attention to details.

Michelangelo was also the first sculptor to depict David before the battle, while most sculptors chose to portray David after his victory, ie triumphant over the slain Goliath. You could see why Michelangelo chose to capture David in a most artful manner during his most tensed moment with full of bodily concentration. What can I say?

Exquisite! Period.

Michelangelo’s David was not the only one mentioned in our private tour. There were also 4 magnificently unfinished slaves of Michelangelo in the Tribuna del David together with the statue of St Matthew and the pieta.

Our tour lasted exactly for an hour and a half. There were too many art pieces and sculptures to mention in this post. I leave it to you to see them for yourself 😉

Thanks, Carla for opening our eyes, ears and mind in that short span of tour time 🙂

Lunch Interlude with a Mistake

Before meeting our next guide for the Uffizi tour, we had lunch at a simple resto, a little away from the crowded square and streets.

The foods were okay except for one and the service was rather slow.

I guess from the collage you could pin-point the odd dish out. I won’t say which one, so it’s up to you to give it a guess and interpret why it’s a mistake dish that made someone really disappointed that day 😦

The Only Bridge Standing

There’re many bridges across the Arno river, but there’s only ONE bridge that attracted tourists and the like the most.

When Florence was severely damaged during WW2 by the Germans, blowing up all its bridges, Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge was the only Bridge standing. Rumour has it that Hitler found the view from the bridge too beautiful to destroy.

So here we were, walking on the Ponte Vecchio, admiring the bridge as it is today without being destroyed from any wars.

Ponte Vecchio is also one of the few bridges in the world that still has shops on it, specifically jewellery shops.

Uffizi Gallery

Just outside the Museum, we were greeted by Monica, our guide. Monica is Swede who has lived in Florence for the past 25 years. This time the group was bigger, at least 40 of us, with the youngest being a child of a year old. It was not difficult to decipher Monica’s audible explanation as each of us was given a headset.

The Uffizi Gallery housed the world’s greatest collection of Italian artworks and Renaissance art from Giotto to Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio. Thanks to Anna Maria Lodovica, the last of the Medici line who left her property to Florence, ensuring that the Medici collections remained intact forever.

The Meaning Of Florence From A Single Painting

One of the paintings that everyone listened in awe to was the one from Alessandro Filipepi aka Botticelli. It’s called La Primavera.

There may be many other interpretations of La Primavera, but Monica narrated the painting in a very enlightening and interesting manner. I could remember almost every word she described the painting.

The painting is a symbol of Spring. It depicts love and marriage, sensuality and fertility.

The scene is set in the garden of Venus, the Roman Goddess Of Love. She’s standing in the centre of the painting. Above her, is her blindfolded son, Cupid, who shoots arrows of Love to the Three Graces. On the far right of the painting is Zephyrus, the wind that billows and pursues Chloris, the nymph.

On the far left is Mercury, the winged messenger of the Gods. He is holding a staff to dissipate the gloomy clouds of Winter for Spring to come.

When Zephyrus succeeds in making Chloris pregnant, she transforms into Flora, the Goddess of Spring. The transformation is depicted by the flowers spewing out of Chloris’ mouth. Flora then scatters the flowers she gathers on her dress, thus, symbolising springtime and fertility. And that’s how Florence (the city) got her name, from Flora.

I thought that interpretation of Florence was really enlightening, and that, from a single painting but of course there are other naming theories that seemed to conclude the floral definition of the city.

The Leaning Truth Of Tuscany

One hour and a half went by in a fleeting moment. We left Florence basking under the scorching Tuscan heat of 34C homeward bound 75km back to San Sano.

My thought lingered to our next adventure in Tuscany, one that would reveal the leaning truth of our Summer Hols …

Stay tuned 😉

Ciao!

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My Ayurvedic Vegan Experience (Am I Converted?) #thermomix

Honestly speaking, I had always associated a vegan being Buddhist. Call me ignorant, but you will forgive me after reading the next paragraph *wink*

My first exposure of a full-fledged vegan meal was when I did not know I had a vegan meal at all! How ironic was that? Then again, it was eons ago. I was a little girl sitting at a big round table, surrounded by adults I could vaguely recollect their faces except for my late Dad and an aunt or two and an adopted cousin and her biological family. Everyone was speaking Henghua, and Mandarin and a smattering of Hokkien and Malay. I remembered eating a cold plate as starter and mains consisting of lo han chai, braised mushrooms with broccoli, yam basket with pieces of ‘meat’, slices of ‘meat’ in orange sauce that tasted like duck meat, whole fish with edible bones. All the dishes were intricately and artistically presented. I was not a good eater when I was a young girl growing up, but I remembered those dishes were simply sublime. Although the tastes seemed quite linear throughout, the textures were rather interesting: chewy, meaty, spongy, sweet, savoury, tangy, tasty; and yet there were no real meats, only mock meats! Yup, that was my first intro to a vegan meal, prepared for a group of people who were mostly Buddhist at the time.

>> Fast forward anno 2013, Belgium >>

On 5th June, 2013, the United Nations celebrated World Environment Day (WED). The company where I work, co-celebrated the year’s theme “Think. Eat. Save”.  A colleague who is a vegan was the best ambassador to present that year’s theme at one of the meetings.

And guess what? I was not being introduced, but more so, re-introduced to yet another full-fledged vegan lunch, albeit on a different level! I must say the vegan burger was a surprise discovery. I have written a post about it, here.

In case you are wondering, nope, my colleague is NOT a Buddhist. She became a vegan due to both dietary and ethical reasons.

Vegan is the New Black!

This phrase is inspired by the opening title of Netflix’s hit show Orange is the New Black. While the 2nd part of the phrase, “the new black” is very common in pop culture, the first part of the phrase, “Vegan”, is the suddenly trendy thing that is happening of late. If you don’t already know, being vegan is not at all a new thing. It was founded in 1944 !!

Loving the Loving Hut

Ever since I had my first bite of that vegan burger, I was on the lookout for that restaurant in Leuven. Loving Hut is a vegan restaurant chain with several outlets worldwide. I’m glad Leuven is one of them! I have brought my younger son there with me on several occasions and he likes the food there, so much so, that it becomes a domino effect. In turn he brought his friends to lunch there, too.

Here’re what I had with my son during one of our visits to Loving Hut. All organic and vegan burgers with vegan “bitterballen” and “calamares”

Awesome!



My favourite remains the refreshingly colourful and tasty, neptunus salad.



Oh by the way, it was at Loving Hut that I got to know of Dr RM, a Kerala born doctor in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. Although I have never been to any of her yoga classes, I have enjoyed a good Ayurvedic full body massage from her.

During one of the massage sessions with Dr RM, she mentioned about giving an Ayurvedic Vegan workshop (yes, she called it a workshop) when the weather was warmer. She sounded extremely enthusiastic about it and even sharing her plan with me. Lucky for her, I’m a good listener 🙂

And doubly lucky for her, I told her to count me in when the workshop day arrived, as I was game – for the food, in particular. Lol!

Workshop Day

28th May arrived. It was a lovely sunny day. I drove to Dr RM’s house where the workshop was. It was my first Vegan workshop, hence, I had not the clue what to expect.

Although I have been to Dr RM’s house on several occasions for the Ayurvedic massage, I have never been into her living room, let alone, her kitchen. It felt like walking into another dimension with our bare feet et al. The living room was unadorned and pure minimalistic, definitely not in a negative sense.

Yoga Before Vegan

We were a small group of 4 participants. Dr RM gave a brief explanation of yoga after which she recited a simple mantra to anchor our attention to our breathing while the calming and Zen meditation music was playing.

A-U-M!

We “woke up” with a pleasant serving of aromatic mug of freshly brewed warm Ayurvedic chai. We were in comfort zone, literally speaking.

Ready? Steady…. Cook!

For the next 2 hours or so, I took down mental notes of the vegan cooking process through the photos I captured from my iPhone.

My challenge? To replicate the Vegan lunch in the comfort of my own kitchen *wink*

Okay, just let your imagination run wild with you, with the following photos…

It was supposed to be an interactive cooking workshop but due to time constraint, it ended up with Dr RM preparing and cooking all the dishes herself!

She whipped up 4 vegan recipes while explaining the choice of ingredients used – Ayurvedic mung bean soup, Ayurvedic Chapatis or Rotis, Ayurvedic chutney and kheer or rice pudding with saffron, cardamom and cashew nuts.

What a Feast!

It was worth the wait. A simple, unadulterated vegan meal that’s fresher than FRESH! Couldn’t get any fresher than that.

What more can I say!

My Challenge…

After seeing Dr RM toiling away with the mixing, stirring, kneading and cooking, I thought, “nah, too time consuming!“, so I opted for the extreme alternative.

Yup, I turned to my Thermie for help 😉

With the mental notes in my head, I converted the drudgery of preparing the Ayurvedic vegan lunch into an expeditious culinary journey in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Vegan Sunday with a Twist


My Ayurvedic Chapatis

  • 1 kg potatoes (I used “Jazzy” creamy potatoes)
  • 750 g organic wheat “atta” flour (I used organic spelt flour plus extra for kneading)
  • 1.5 tsp nigella seeds
  • 40g chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I boiled the potatoes (skin on) as per the BCB and peeled the skin when still warm but not hot. Then I set them aside to cool before mashing the potatoes to the texture I wanted. Then I added the flour bit by bit, nigella seeds, 1 Tbsp coconut oil and salt. I mixed the mixture until a dough is formed. I turned the dial to “knead” for 2 minutes, and added 1 Tbsp coconut oil if too dry, or more flour if still wet. The key here is trial and error and stop when you are happy with the consistency you want.

Next, I tipped the dough onto a floured bowl and leave the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes. After half an hour, I kneaded the dough again by hand on floured surface. For the amount of dough mixture, I was able to make 25 equal-sized balls. I flattened each ball with a floured rolling pin and rolled each ball into disc.


I used two green pans to speed the roti making process. Each pan was pre-heated and drizzled with a tiny bit of coconut oil on medium high heat. The Chapatis were cooked when they puffed in the centre. I just flipped the roti over to cook on both sides until little brown specks became visible. As you can see, my rotis were not of uniform sizes and form. I like it that way as it looked more home-style 😀

My Ayurvedic Chutney

  • 180 g raisins secs
  • 180 g raisins blanc
  • 200 g x 2 dates
  • A palmful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan rock salt


I soaked the raisins and dates in water overnight. With the amount of raisins and dates (water removed) and mint I dumped in the TM bowl, I made sure not to go above speed 5 to avoid the TM blades from getting stuck. You can continue by using a wooden spatula to free the area around the blades. Continue blending until you reached the desired texture. I prefer my chutney with a bit of texture.

For smoother puréed-like texture, blend in smaller batches.


Dates and raisins are sweet, so you know the drill. Pep it up with some freshly milled Himalayan rock salt and cayenne or paprika powder. Et voilà!

My Ayurvedic Soup

  • 400 g split mung beans
  • 1,500 g water plus 500 g water
  • 5 g turmeric powder
  • 5 g garlic (sorry, I can’t go without this herb!)
  • 80 g onion (ditto)
  • Ginger
  • Lemon juice from half a lemon
  • Himalayan rock salt, to taste
  • 25 g Coconut oil


Tempering

  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • Roughly chopped Spinach leaves
  • Coconut oil


Garnishing

  • Chopped coriander leaves
  • Crispy fried onions (optional)

Wash the mung beans in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Soak the mung beans for at least 4 hours or overnight


Mince the garlic, onion and ginger upto speed 5 for 3 seconds. Add coconut oil and sauté with turmeric powder for 3mins/ 120 C/ speed 1.

From the overnight-soaked mung beans, weigh 500g of the soaked beans and transfer to the TM bowl. Add 1,500g water. Cook for 20 mins/ 120 C/ R/ Spoon/ Half MC

After 10 minutes, watch out for the foams floating on the surface. Pause and remove the frothy surface. Reduce the temperature to 100C/ Half MC. Cook further until the mung beans are soft and tender. Transfer the soup to a bigger soup pot. Add 500 g water. Boil for another 5 minutes.

And of course, season to taste!

Prepare the tempering by heating some coconut oil and mustard seeds in a frying pan. As soon as the seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds and roughly chopped spinach leaves. Gently pour the tempered ingredients into the soup. Season to taste before serving. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and crispy fried onions (optional)


Our Vegan Lunch was ready to serve!

My Verdict?

I loved Dr RM’s Chapatis. Her rotis puffed up beautifully in the centre. She used plain wheat flour while I used organic Spelt flour. That could be the reason why my rotis did not puff too much and a bit more dense, too. The mixing and kneading in the TM were a breeze but it was the rolling out of the dough into discs and the waiting time to get the rotis cooked went by at annoying snail speed. With my boys popping in and out of the kitchen and incessantly asking “is the food ready yet?” didn’t help one bit at all 😦

I loved my Ayurvedic soup the most. Could it be the un-vegan ingredients of minced garlic, onion and crispy fried shallots that made the world of difference? That’s the Twist, I meant 😉

The guys in my household are not fan of beans and lentils, but surprisingly, they liked the soup.

To be honest, Dr RM’s soup was very bland. It could do with some pinches of extra salt but we were all too ravenous, and gulped all the soup down. Lol!

Our Ayurvedic chutneys were on par. Hers was extremely smooth, more like purée and mine was more relish-y. I prefer my chutney with some texture, hence by not pulsing on high speed for too long was, for me, perfect. If you’re wondering if the chutney was too sweet because of the dates, well, it was on the sweet side but not overly sweet due to the overnight soaking. The slight tartness from the raisins and the cool and refreshing mint, Himalayan salt and cayenne or paprika powder balanced the flavour of the chutney quite flawlessly.

I asked the 3 participants what their favourite dish was. All 3 pointed to the Ayurvedic chutney and the Chapatis 😉

By the way, I did not replicate Dr RM’s dessert as that was my least favourite dish. Her rice pudding did not set in the fridge and it turned out pretty soupy. The flavours were alright.

Will I make these again? Yes! Without a doubt, but on a smaller scale. I will use plain atta flour for the Chapatis. The Ayurvedic soup will be on a future lunch menu. Bookmarked! I will make the Ayurvedic chutney 2 ways – puréed and relished and will add some chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon juice for extra tartness.

If you have never had an Ayurvedic vegan meal before, you may consider trying this out and judge it for yourself.

I’m not a Vegan but I loved it, however, it’s not something I will eat everyday. Too many restrictions and it’s just not possible for me to abstain from a good bowl of kolo mee or char siu pao 😀

Oh by the way, Dr RM gave away a try-out sample pack of the Ayurvedic chai after the workshop.

I brewed it immediately when I got home.

Mmmmm…. yummy!

Zen….

This masala chai is a keeper 😉

Have a Blessed Sunday!

Cheers!

Belgium · Books · Culture · Did you know? · Feel-Good · Friends · Informative · Mystery · Nostalgia · Personal · Reunion · Sarawakian

When 7 girls and a baby decided to go for a weekend getaway… Part 2

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!