Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

Our holidays in the Provence were coming to an end…

Arles

We returned to Arles, but again and again, what a surprise… we discovered a new location that we had not been to in our previous sojourns in the Provence! It’s a drawbridge which was a subject of several paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. It was the replica of the original Langlois Bridge (Pont de Langlois) or better known as Pont Van Gogh.

Walk

Nearby the Pont Van Gogh was a lovely walking trail that seemed to run to infinity. The surrounding flora were very simple; dried thistles, wild berries, shrubs and bushes, fathomless stream and dusty trails.

We seemed to be walking for ages until thirst and hunger got the better of us 🙂

We returned to the car and drove back to the centre of Arles. We found a good spot under a shady tree but had to walk quite a distance passing deserted alleys and back lanes.

We finally stopped at the first resto we saw, Le Bistrot des Artistes. Surprisingly, the choice of dishes were fab, but the service was quite slow, despite the fact that we did not order a set lunch for once. From too much of walking, we did not feel like eating too much variety of dishes, but were definitely more parched. Or perhaps we wanted to save space in our tummy for the much talked about artisanal ice-creams in Arles!

Last year my friend and her family stayed in Arles and she recommended an ice-cream parlour that served only artisanal ice-creams.

We thought we found it. It’s located just outside Le jardin de la Maison de Santé à Arles de Vincent Van Gogh (once upon a time a hospital). Whew! It’s a bit of a mouthful, innit?

It was there that Van Gogh was admitted after cutting his left earlobe. The Hospital of Arles is the subject of Van Gogh’s 2 paintings; one of them was the painting of the inner courtyard of the hospital called Le jardin de la Maison de Santé à Arles (Courtyard or Garden of the Hospital in Arles).

Oh by the way, the pink-coloured ice cream parlour we went to (Glacier Fraîcheur et Délices) was not the one my friend mentioned. She went to the yellow coloured ice cream shop called Soleileis. Anyway, there were several artisanal ice-cream makers in the vicinity of Arles. We just found one that succeeded to ‘cool’ us down on a hot day and both parlours were in close proximity to Place du Forum.

Unfortunately, the day was still young and there were no stars in the sky! Sorry, no starry night, Vincent 😉

Finally at Le Bistrot de La Galine!

It was Friday and our last day at La Maison Blanche. We were to check out the next morning.

Before wrapping up our stay at La Maison Blanche, we were looking forward to lunch at the nearby Le Bistrot de La Galine. We had missed that place just a week before because it was closed on a Sunday.

I had the Bistro menu of smoked duck salad and the local specialty of Camargue, Gardiane de Taureau à la Provençale served on a bed of tagliatelle. Both the starter and the main course were good until the house dessert came. The banana chocolate tart was an anticlimax, for me at least. It was just not my favourite, however, my younger son hit a home run with his choice of dishes; ravioli, burger and fries and tiramisu!

Back for the Muscat

Last year our trip to Beaumes-de-Venise was extraordinarily special with a hint of nostalgia. This year we only went to the wine tasting cave of Coyeaux. Yes, we came back for the muscat Beaume-de-Venise! After tasting 4 different Muscats, hubby bought the muscat Beaume de Venise rosé (2016). The 3 bottles followed us back some 1k km…

Knock! Knock! Who’s there?

We headed back to La Maison Blanche and guess who came to visit us?!!

Yay!!! Our friend came back! He may not have the friendliest of faces, but I guess for a dog’s expression that would probably be translated as his sensing our imminent departure from La Maison Blanche, hence the sad drooping look through the glass door of the back yard.

By the way (not in the photo), before the littlest hobo scampered away, he peed on the shrub bed, as if to tell us that he’d be back.

I’m sure he would or did, but with new tenants to pick up where we had left off…

Bonjour! Merci! Au revoir!

À bientôt!

Until we meet again!

From Bonjour to Hola!

We checked out La Maison Blanche at 10 am and left St-Rémy-de Provence in South France direction Girona, North East Spain!

Thus, ended our Provençal vacation, and the beginning of Catalonian summer escapades!

From Bonjour et Au revoir France to Hola España!

Spain, here we come !!

To be continued…

Enjoy the rest of the week. TGIF!

Cheers !

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Have you heard of Sel de mer La Baleine or Le Saunier de Camargue?

When we had one of our lunches in Arles, Le Saunier de Camargue was seen placed liberally on every table alongside a bottle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Mind you, this sea salt is not some cheap table salt. It’s one of the finest, produced in Camargue, or more specifically, on the salt marshes in Salin-de-Giraud, situated just next to the River Rhône. By the way, Sel de mer La Baleine and Le Saunier de Camargue are the salt brands from the production of sea salt at Salin-de-Giraud.

And that’s where we’re headed to.

Our GPS navigated a distance of 98km from La Maison Blanche with an ETA at 1.05 pm (ca 1.5 hours).

Last year, I bought some 2 kg of Le Saunier de Camargue. It was good to be back to actually visit the less known side of Camargue, id est, visiting the salt marshes or salt flats of Salin-de-Giraud. ‘Salin‘ is saline in English meaning a solution of salt in water.

When Blue becomes Red

The normally blue water turns red under high salt concentration, thus making the blood red water landscape phenomenally striking. Nothing we have seen before.

Curiosity killed the cat. We had to get closer to the bloody water pan.

If you are wondering, actually the red or pink colour of the salt flats is due to the presence ~ in large quantities ~ of microscopic algae (Dunaliella Salina), rich in beta carotene and antioxidant activity. Got this info from the instruction board, here below 😉

It is, however, unclear how often the phenomenon occurs, but we’re lucky to have experienced the most picturesque sight where salt has been the lifeblood of the region for years!

Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer

The temperature was at its highest at 38C! We left the salt pan of Salin-de-Giraud at 1.30 pm to Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer. It’s interesting to discover that the town is named after three Marys (Mary of Clopas, Mary Salome and Mary Magdalene), who were said to have arrived there by sea.

It was also at Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer, that Vincent Van Gogh made several paintings of the seascape and town, the famous one being the Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer in June 1888.

With the scorching sun above our heads, we found the best place to shelter and take comfort at Bistro La Mama Sita. Being so close to the sea, the seafood salad was spot on. And so was the entrecôte of bull steak. It was a huge portion, especially so when the bulls have the predominant presence in the Camargue! Hubby had the famous local specialty dish of Camargue called La Gardiane de Taureau (slow-cooked Camargue bull stew) served with Camargue rice. I must say all the dishes we ordered were mouth-wateringly sublime.

With all the dishes we had consumed in such hot weather, we made a short stroll along the Promenade Charles de Gaulle.

The beach was packed with very tanned looking locals and holiday-makers. We felt out of place and at the same time, I could feel the blazing heat penetrating my skin, so we left Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer. The boys were looking forward to taking a dip in the pool back at La Maison Blanche .

While I walked around the house taking snapshots of what became a chronicled narrative of our Summer getaway in the Provence 🙂

A Blessed Sunday!

Cheers!

We had a good night sleep despite the heat (36C). It must be because we were dead tired from the super lengthy journey under the blazing heat of the Provençal Summer.

Sunday, 6th August

We were looking forward to the most unique annual Floating Market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which takes place for only one day on the 1st Sunday of August! We wouldn’t miss it for the world because we missed that last year as we had special friends over at our holiday home that day. You can read the post here.

So we got up early in order to catch the supposedly unique and spectacular floating market on time. After all, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is dubbed as the Venice of France and we came this far not to miss the eye-catching event. I was super thrilled!

By the way, it was drizzling that morning, hence, it was a welcoming feeling. The cooler breeze was an excellent change from the blistering heat the day before.

We reached L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue at 10am. The morning Market went in full swing… BUT where’s the Floating Market ???!!! Nothing’s floated while everything’s grounded!

Wasn’t 6th August, 2017 the first Sunday of August ?? We were conned!! Darn!

The market was the normal weekly Sunday morning market so typical of the Provence.

What a shame… No Floating Market. No spectacular nego chins but just this lonely vacant boat berthing on one of the water canals.

Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

We did not stay long at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue as it was a Sunday and our pantry at La Maison Blanche was as bare as stone.

It was 11.39 am. We headed straight for Intermarché, not realising that it was closed at 12 noon. We were dilly-dallying along the aisles browsing through some stuffs, until an agitated looking duty manager rushed us for time. If only you could see how I flung the shopping trolley down each aisle, grabbing items while picturing spagbol in my mind! Okay, I believed I had everything, or did I??!!

We drove back to La Maison Blanche and hurriedly filled the kitchen pantry and the fridge before stepping out of the house again.

4 Rumbling Tummies

We had not had any decent food since we arrived the day before, hence, we were in dire need of FOOD!

It was 1.15 pm and hubby wanted to bring us to Le Bistrot de La Galine, which was not far from La Maison Blanche. Hubby had good memories of a fab meal there when he and his brother and our older son went there in 2014 while our younger son and I went to Rome when my Mum and older sis came to visit us that year.

But…. alas! Le Bistrot de La Galine was closed on Sundays!!

Our tummies! Our poor rumbling tummies! I told hubby that we should drive to the centre of St-Rémy-de-Provence as chances are high that the restos are opened on a Sunday. Fingers crossed to that!

Phew! What luck! A few cafés and brasseries were still in business at that hour. It was 2 pm and Brasserie de L’industrie at Boulevard Mirabeau saved our bellies!

I had a superb meal of pavé de thon (grilled tuna) with sautéed carrot, courgette, aubergine and tomato and some rice. The boys had a hearty men’s meal of hamburger with fries. Ironically, our dessert was îles flottantes (Floating islands)!!!!

The service was fast, precise and friendly. The dishes were simple but superb, and the price tag was correct. What could I say more? Bullseye!

Happy Weekend!

Cheers!

Hey folks! I’m back!! My blog has been in comatose status for quite a while, I know. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, most unfortunately 😦

By the way, this is a scheduled post 😉

Friday, 4th August

Hubby, my boys and I were counting down the days to our annual Summer hols! We were to leave on Saturday. I wish I could say TGIF, but it’s still a workday for me. I told my colleagues that I had to urgently WFH that day due to too many last minute activities. Besides my office workload, I had made an appointment with my bank to pick up my new Silver Credit Card. The old one was expiring soon.

Good thing I had pre-packed my clothes the evening before. I was hoping for less stress, unlike last year! You can read it all here 🙂

I had to take care of the foods, drinks, snacks and our lunch boxes for our impending lengthy journey of ca 1k km. Travelling super light was not possible as there’re 4 of us, all grown ups. My hubby’s car boot was packed to the gills!

Like last year, I asked hubby what our ETD was going to be. He replied, “when everyone feels like waking up

That made me even more nervous as I hate being late or being caught in a traffic jam!

Okay, our ETD strategy changed completely, which, surprisingly, worked a charm! You’ll find out why …

No waking up time was mentioned. No ETD was broached. No alarm was set. All we needed to do was to sleep through the night and woke up according to the inherent timing of our biological clock!

By the way, I was awakened by my biological clock at 5.20 am. The guys were still in deep sleep. So yes, I was the first one to get up, as usual 🙂

Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain …

How could this happen? We’re in the midst of the Summer season and it’s raining cats and dogs! We have never left for our Summer hols on a rainy day. Anyway, the sounds of the raindrops were hypnotic and relaxing at the same time. But what a damper to having to drive on an extremely wet day. Now I understood why hubby said to wake up when we felt like waking up. We have all gone through our deep, light and REM sleep cycles, and we were all completely awake. Cool!

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, here we come … AGAIN!!!!!

With a total distance of almost 1k km, our ETA was 3.55 pm. We left at 6.47 am.

Rain, rain go away, come again another day! The combination of the soothing heavy rain on the highway with the monotonous sound of the windscreen wiper were amazingly mesmeric. Everyone was as quiet as a church mouse in the car which was a perfect mode for hubby to traverse the wet and dreary roads of the Belgian highway with full focus.

When we finally reached Luxembourg for gasoline, the skies were a lot bluer but cloudy.

We know we have reached France when the inescapable sign “péage” (toll) is posted on the French “autoroutes“. Good thing we have the BIP&GO pass which is an electronic toll payment badge that allows us to travel on the entire French motorway network. It is the most convenient way to travel on the European Motorway, meaning as our car approached the tolls, the barrier will automatically lift, without us having to stop and pay at the toll booth. Shorter queues and a time saver!! We need only to pay at the end of our trip(s) where direct debit payments are made at the end of the month.

The cloudy skies made way for clear blue skies and suddenly we felt a ray of sunshine.

And then the voice from the GPS chanted, “There are traffic disruptions on the route. An alternative route cannot be recommended.”

Oh-oh! Time to have a break before being trapped in the gridlocks from Valence to Montelimar to Orange. Yup, we know the Black Saturday drill by heart 😉

We stopped just a bit after Lyon at 10 am for brunch and left the highway rest area at 11 am with the soaring temperature at 35C. With such heat, every single car leaving the rest area was given cold and refreshing Volvic fruit juice water. Precisely what we needed!

And so we were caught in the traffic jam for more than 2 hours under the scorching sun of 39C!

Finally the last leg of the traffic jam ended at 6 pm. Our ETA shifted too. We finally arrived at Saint-Rémy-de Provence. The familiar avenue of trees so typical of that region was a welcoming sight.

We reached La Maison Blanche at 7.11 pm and sweated buckets with the mercury level of 36C!! I quickly checked the temperature at home and it was only 17C! Wow! What a difference, eh? We didn’t feel like going out with the heat that evening, so the guys ended up dipping themselves in the swimming pool while I had a cold shower. I remembered La Maison Blanche, as it was not the first time we were there. It was my second stay there and the third for hubby and our older son.

The house has not changed since my last stay there in 2012 (you can read the post here). Just that we have become 5 years older 😦

What’s in store for us the next days were memories that would remain pristine in our psyche. And I wonder what’s coming up next? Stay with me in my new adventure to the unknown …

See ya …

Cheers!

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!

15th August was a bank holiday in France. The plan was to leave early to catch the annual parade at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence which ended at 12 noon.

We left at 9.30 am in the hope of reaching Saint-Rémy-de-Provence at 10.30 am. Saint-Rémy is 69 km from our holiday home at Lagarde-Paréol

While driving 42 km, we were -literally-stuck in a traffic jam. Our GPS did not forewarn us of the stagnated traffic, bumper-to-bumper kilometres long! It happened just before 10 am. We thought it was just the usual traffic; after all, it was a public holiday and we suspected that most people would be heading for the grand parade at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

However, the clock on the GPS ticked … 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes …  We still had 27 km to go and the cars did NOT budge an inch!  And then we saw cars winding down their windows and human heads popping out and necks stretching out as far left or right to take a glimpse of what lay ahead. 

At about 20 minutes, we heard the police siren and then the ambulance. 

After a while, we saw people – restless people – getting out of their cars. I jumped on the bandwagon and got out of the car. Below were some memorable photos I took on the A7 highway of the mega long queue of cars on 15th August, 2016. Our GPS confirmed an accident had occurred that morning. I could only guess that it was a serious one as the highway was immediately cordoned off. All cars behind us had to drive an alternative route. 

Honestly I felt quite agitated with the long wait….there goes our morning and our plan to be at the parade on time ...😏

After 40 minutes of being completely traffic-immobilised, we finally progressed. Geez!

The Carreto Ramado of Saint-Rémy de Provence

We finally arrived at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence at 11.25 am! With about half hour  of what’s left of the Parade, we actually managed to watch the grand finale, the Carreto Ramado, an enormous float, decorated with the flora and vegetation, symbolising the farm and produce of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and the region.  

The huge cart was drawn by at least 50 draught horses, splendidly harnessed one behind the other. It was a sight to behold! 


I smelt lavender everywhere! And a bit of garlic and horse manures. Lol!

The Carreto Ramado procession is one of the most important events of the summer festivals.  

Despite the heat, the crowds were thrilled to relive the tradition of the northern Alpilles since the 19th Century. 

These sweet looking girls and handsome boys paraded with pride wearing the costumes of the Arlésiennes from 1900. 

The carts, horses, floats, costumed ladies and gentlemen paraded around the town all morning until noon. We were glad to experience that moment, albeit our tardy show up.

By 12 noon, the crowds dispersed, and suddenly, the streets became more fluid.

After the repugnant lunch experience we had at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, we vowed to have a more decent meal. 

Honestly it was easier to find Gault Millau rated restaurants at Saint-Rémy than most of the neighbouring towns in the Provence, meaning, we’re assured of the best dishes being executed in relation to what we were willing to pay, of course😁

And I had one word for our lunch deal. Exquisite!

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is one of the towns in South France that has the most English-speaking tourists. 

By the way, we had frequented Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in many of our trips and have always loved it there, so much so that we stayed there during 3 consecutive Summers in the same holiday villa owned by a British couple.

We left Saint-Rémy driving along the most spellbinding avenue of trees which were synonymous of the town. LOVED it!

Eygalières

Before driving home, we stopped by at the address which was once upon a time a 2 Michelin-star restaurant owned by a Belgian couple, Wout and Suzy Bru. 

4 years ago while we visited Eygalières, the restaurant was called, Maison Bru. 


This Summer, the Maison Bru signage was replaced by a new owner. 

I read that the Bru’s moved back to Belgium and opened a Brasserie-type restaurant in Antwerp and Wout Bru is no longer a Michelin-star chef. 

With 5 days left of our Summer hols, would we be relaxing at the poolside or exploring for more adventures?

Stay tuned to find out 😉

Cheers!