Sunday, July 22, 2018

The German Part of Switzerland: Hiking In The Alps

If you remember my last few years of summer road trips, you'll remember that Kristin, Sean and I had a lot of fun catching up and taking a few days to  catch up and relax each summer.  (Remember our trip to see the wineries in Bordeaux in 2015 and hike and swim in the picturesque Cinque Terre, Italy in 2016)?  Well, we all had such conflicting schedules that we ended up skipping our road trip in 2017. 
Sapna in the cable car

Kristin and I decided to go ahead and do a short trip in May 2018.  (Yes, my post is a good 6 to 8 weeks late once again!) Unfortunately, Sean was in Canada - but will hopefully join us on our next trip ;)  Switzerland is a tiny country packed full of nature and hiking trails - so we planned to see exactly that. We also wanted to take a mini food tour of the region - and find me some traditional Swiss veggie options!

Even though I'd been to Switzerland several times (and lived in Morges for 4 months way back when I was a 19 year old au pair), I'd never seen the German side with the exception of a day in Zurich and a brief drive through Lucerne.

Neiderhorn & An Impromptu Paragliding Show

Well, the weather wasn't as beautiful as we expected, so we got caught out in the rain in Neiderhorn. Luckily, it wasn't pouring and we had a slightly chilly mountain hike. 

However, we did see one really cool sighting - a paraglider taking off! I had never seen a paraglider before, let alone one take off.  We watched him put on his gear and jet up and away - impressive! The clouds made for a few great photos, too.

Lucerne Bridge

(Or, Lucerne if you spell it the French way). 

 I'd been to the city before with Sean on a different road trip, basically to take a photo of the bridge.   

Here is the bridge at night:

Lucerne at Night

Kristin and I had dinner in Lucerne (see the food section below for our foodie adventures). It was pouring rain though, so Lucerne was basically a quick walk!

Rigi: A Cog Wheel Train & Field of Cows

Luckily, our day hiking Rigi was a little better weather-wise.  Even though it was a bit cloudy, we had so much fun breathing in nature. The mountain air is so refreshing! 

One of my favourite parts was walking through a field of cows. They are so beautiful! Did you know that?  It was definitely a first for me! I mean, I've seen a cow or two before, but right up close and a whole field of them?  They are so pretty and seem to have character, too. 

We also took a cogwheel train, which was a first for me as well. 

Here are two of my favourite pics from the whole trip:

1) A Cow


2) Kristin Kissing the Rigi Cow

St Gallen: A Beautiful Library & Cathedral

It's the kind of place where you have to wear giant slippers over your shoes, whisper, and leave your camera behind.  It's a beautiful library with ancient books and a replica of a giant ancient globe. 

That's why we went to St. Gallen, and it didn't disappoint.  In fact, it reminded me a bit of my trip to Dublin with Janice in 2014 to see the Book of Kells.

The cathedral was beautiful, too.

Eating Our Way Through Swiss German Towns

Now, this was a long weekend, and a proper catch-up trip. So - all diets were out the window for a good four days! (Thankfully, my trainers were totally on board with that. Gotta love Spain sometimes!)

I definitely learned about some new foods while travelling with Kristin.  Oh, and I learned that Swiss German portions are huge. There were two times when I just could not finish y plate!

Here are 7 dishes we tried:

1) White Asparagus with Cheese Sauce

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this. I've only tried white asparagus one other time - from a can in a restaurant that didn't know the meaning of the word "vegetarian" in Spain. It was tasteless. When prepared with spices and a cheese sauce though, white asparagus is actually great!

Rosti and Egg at EbenAlp Restaurant

2) Rösti

Rösti is a grated potato dish with toppings (like egg). It's simple and sooo delicious! I hadn't had one of these in years, so I had to try it.

2) Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Onions & Applesauce  (Yes!)

You'll have to forgive the awful edits and photography here. The restaurant we went to was dark with florescent lights. What?!  Not meant for taking photos, that's for sure ;)

The food was great though, so I had to get a couple photos in.  Also, Kristin and I spent a few hours chatting and catching up here so that made it extra special. I was not expecting to like this mac and cheese with onions and applesauce dish - but I did!

Sapna with Mac & Cheese
Kristin and the Rosti

Mac and Cheese with Applesauce...Yum!

3) Aperol   

Now, this one's not Swiss, but I had never tried it.  Not bad! Very strong though, that's for sure...we had some good catch-up time over this drink at our fancy hotel, too.


4) Spätzle

This was one of those giant dishes that I couldn't finish!

5) Hazelnut and Almond treats

I can't remember what these are called (serves me right for blogging two months late I guess!). They were a little too sweet, but had an interesting flavour.  We got these in a little town called Appenzell.

6) Coffee with Alcohol

Okay, well you can't complain about this gigantic drink of calorific magnificence... yum!
Swiss Coffee

EbenAlp: Restaurant In The Rock

Y'know the above coffee galore? We had that in a little mountain cafe, where the cafe is built into the mountain rock. (Here's more info about it from the Swiss tourist site).  We took the cable car up and walked down for this part of the trip.  Now, we didn't get the amazing views that show up when you google this place.  We did see a bit of the mountain, though - and a few cute animals! 

Here is a slideshow of our trip. If you have trouble viewing it (or are on a mobile device, please go here to see the Flickr image set.)

Actually, I have to be honest and say in addition to being super late with this post, I didn't have time to do much editing. So here are mostly raw, unedited photos of our trip. Remember you can control the speed of the slideshow in the top right-hand corner.

Enjoy the show!

 Stay tuned for a few upcoming posts, that I promise will be less late than this one.  First, a post on my sister's wedding is coming up. Then, I'll follow that with more Canadian fun in Edmonton and Vancouver. (It was my first visit in four years!)

Where are you headed this summer? Have you checked out any of the places in the German part of Switzerland? Any travel tips?

Feel free to comment below :)

Happy summer travels!


Friday, May 25, 2018

Devinssi: A Beautiful, Boutique Winery in the Priorat Region, Catalunya

Fun Filled Winery Day at Devinssi!  From left:  Vita, Sapna, Robby, Rob, Marina

What's the smallest winery you've ever been to?

Well, I bet it's not as small as the one I took a mini-road trip to a couple weeks ago! Itching to travel and have a break from our PhD/work sagas, Marina, Robby, Rob, Vita and I decided to rent a car for the day.

On the metro to the car rental place!

Actually, I've only recently realized that I know someone who can legally drive here (Thank you, Robby!). The rest of us have foreign driver's licenses, which apparently can't be used after a year of living in Spain.  You have to take Driver's Ed again and pass the Spanish test. Seeing as my idea of parallel parking is driving an (automatic) car right into a North-American sized spot, I don't see that happening any time soon!

Now, I did a really stupid thing and forgot that I had taken 10 or so photos of our trip on my SLR when I formatted it before last weekend's Switzerland trip.  So, I'm sorry to say that a few good shots of the streets of Montblanc are gone.  (Thanks to Marina, Vita, Robby and Rob for the photos in this post!)  You'll have to imagine the somewhat rainy weather, cloudy skies with beautiful mountains and ancient streets. 

Don't worry, I have plenty of Swiss mountain and town photos coming up for you next week.

Devinssi: A Private Vineyard Tour

Remember way back in 2015 when Sean visited and we checked out two starkly different but wonderful wineries - Freixenet, a cava place, and Pares Balta, a tiny organic winery?

Well, Devinssi was even smaller! It had such a boutique atmosphere - and a tiny vat for processing wine. In fact, our tour guide was one of two employees and actually lived in a house attached to where they produce the wine.

Robby and the Wine
As a group of linguists and language teachers, we were all shocked when our tour guide told us he was from Russia and had only moved here when he was 28. His Catalan, Spanish and English were so good we thought he was from here, or at least a native speaker of one of those languages. Goes to show you can learn a language at any age, people!

We all came away from the vineyard with bottles of wine - including one white Mas de Las Valles for dinner, which we cooked at my house. We made a yummy vegan mushroom quinoa pilaf, and Ratko joined us for dinner with homemade chocolate cake!  Oh, and I also bought a bottle of Il-lia, an amazing deep red grenache, carignan and cabernet sauvingnon blend. I'll be saving that one for a special occasion, or our next mini road trip adventure.

Montblanc - The Cute Town in Catalunya

Well, until this trip I thought Montblanc was in Switzerland! (Of course, there's one there, too - a beautiful mountain in the Alps). It turns out there's one a lot closer to Barcelona.

We basically just walked around and had lunch in this town, since everything is closed on Sundays.  You know what, though? Lunch with a group of great friends is a stellar way to spend a Sunday afternoon. We had traditional Spanish food (which means I had zucchini, salad, and cheese ;) and tried their tiramisu for dessert, of course. The wine was lovely. It's hard to beat Priorat for wine, really. In fact, most of it is produced for export!  It's the "expensive wine" in the supermarket (if you can find it there).

I put "expensive" in quotes because here in Spain, that's about 10 euros. Yup. I love this!

From Left:  Marina, Sapna, Vita, Rob and Robby

Well, that's about it for this short post.  

If there's one thing I learned from my trip (other than upload your photos asap!), it's that mini-road trip adventures with friends make for the best Sundays. We laughed so much on this trip, it reminded me how important laughter is. (I even wrote the next day's Motivational Monday Post on Laughter!)

Even when we're swamped with work, PhD insanity, immigration hassles or life in general, we should all take the time to take a mini-road trip with friends. Let the work wait for 12 hours, take the pup for a long run before you leave - and hit the road!

What's your favourite day trip or mini road trip story? I'd love to hear it in the comments below!

Stay tuned for my next post about another magical road trip I've just taken - to the German part of Switzerland. 

Have a good week!


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Berlin: A Fun, Vegan Friendly Adventure!

About a month ago, I went on a mini-adventure to Berlin for the weekend, which was definitely a welcome break! Dayna was stopping over there on her way back to Canada after a trip to Russia, and invited me to stay with her in a beautiful vegetarian hotel called Almodovar. (Yes, named after the Spanish director!)   They even had a beautiful brunch buffet in the hotel's restaurant, which I would definitely recommend eating, even if you're not staying there! Thanks, Dayna for treating me to the hotel :) 

Berlin Almodovar Restaurant's Vegetarian Breakfast!

Berlin Almodovar Restaurant's Vegetarian Breakfast!

Berlin Almodovar Restaurant's Vegetarian Breakfast!

Berlin & My Minimalist Kick

We decided to take it easy, since I arrived Friday afternoon and we both flew back Monday morning, and Dayna was just recovering from a flu she'd picked up in Russia.  So, our "adventure" was basically seeing a few sites by buying a touristy Hop On, Hop Off, exploring delicious vegan restaurants and browsing eco-friendly clothing stores. I'd just read this book on Minimalism, so I was inspired to put together a "Capsule Wardrobe" following Project 333. 

This 5-minute video from the blog at My Green Closet shows what a capsule wardrobe is, in case you haven't heard of it. (In case you're curious, I did end up making one the week after)

Actually, I ended up using the video in a mock lesson interview for a private university a few days after I got back. It went super well, and I got the job for Fall semester this year, so I'm excited!  I'll probably use it as a lesson plan for a post on The Teaching Cove, too.

Relaxing Weekend of Touring Around Berlin

Berlin is big, so I'd say the Hop On, Hop Off is quite a good idea. (I know, I know, I'm 
usually opposed to such touristy organized endeavours).  To have some extra fun, listen to the audio in different languages as you ride the bus. I listened in English, Spanish, French and Italian. Unfortunately, I don't remember enough German ;)

The Western side of Berlin is where all the modern, high-street type shops are, and the East has the more trendy, off-the-beaten-path stuff.  We stayed in Friedrichshain, which is a hip little neighbourhood where every menu has vegetarian and vegan options marked in different colours.

Of course, the Berlin Wall Memorial is definitely worth visiting. Not only can you see the bits of the wall they've left in the ground, but you can see an exhibition that explains the history. Actually, you can see parts of wall in many parts of the city. They've even commissioned artists to make beautiful murals on parts of it. While we didn't have time to go in the castles or other museums, we did get a beautiful overview of the city. I especially loved how every neighbourhood has a different vibe, just like Barcelona!

Here is a slideshow of the few photos I did take. (To be honest, most of the time was about Dayna and I catching up).  I also got to see Izabela, who recently moved there!  (Remember our trip to Copenhagen in June 2016 for the New Sounds Conference? So many good memories :) )

Click to play the slideshow. Please remember that if you're on mobile, since Flickr doesn't show up, please go here and flip through the photos instead

Enjoy the slideshow!

Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants In Berlin

Well, I have to say - Berlin is a paradise for vegetarians and vegans. We had absolutely no trouble finding delicious, fairly priced meals. I'd say the prices are about the same as Barcelona, but compared to Canada, they're cheap!

La Stella Nera Pizzeria was probably my favourite. That's likely because (although the pizza was good), I finally had vegan tiramisu that tasted great! Really, I swear. You know how picky I am with my tiramisu, the ultimate dessert in my view. Other than that, seriously - head to Friedrichshain, and walk the main streets there - every second place is a vegan restaurant!

Dayna and Vegan Pasta

Well, that's basically it for my post on Berlin. If you're visiting soon (that's for you, Robby!) be sure to grab the names of a few hip neighbourhoods and take long walks through them, eat at a vegan place, and enjoy the beautiful buildings and parks and efficient transport. Oh, and be sure to check out some of the Soviet-designed places and compare them to the rest - they are quite a contrast of style!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on last weekend's trip to the Priorat Wine Region and our beautiful day trip (road trip!) to a boutique winery. 

Have a great one!


Sunday, May 06, 2018

Dear Stephanie: Another Letter, 7 Years Later

Dear Stephanie,

It's been 7 years since we had coffee at that beautiful "Bogani Cafe" that changes its name, owner and theme every few years (Remember when it was "Cappuccino Affair" in high school?).  Seven years since that last day we saw you, at that mock British pub in a shopping mall with eclectic stained glass windows. Since the funeral, and our dark visit to a restaurant afterwards, somehow managing to swallow your favourite cocktail - the Paralyzer.

Lucky number 7.  This is the year the necklace broke. The memory locket Meghan and I bought identicals of a few weeks after you left us. I wore it almost every day, and now I only have a silver chain dangling, missing the heart, a collapsed clasp neatly put away in a drawer in my jewellery box. I suppose I'll fix or replace it, but it's not the same. The photo is almost gone from fading, the clasp cracked, the chain replaced half a dozen times.

I know I'm a few months late with this memory post, that I secretly and childishly wish your spirit somehow reads every year. I've been thinking about you a lot lately, and thinking about your family, too. Mother's Day in England is in March, but here in Spain is May 6th,  and in Canada is May 13th. So, over the past week I've been thinking about families, and about you.

I'm hoping you're reading this, like the ghosts you used to be so fascinated with, or some kind of reincarnate, or something. Morgan continued with your and her Paranormal Investigators group, Entity Seeker, and published a book this year, did you know?
Buy Book Here:


This year, my post in your memory is simple - no poem like 2016, or fancy life update like last year.

Just a letter.

My Life In 2018

 I've been so stressed with the PhD, teaching, finding a way to stay in Barcelona, and finding time for The Teaching Cove, the new blog I launched at the end of 2016.  Oh, and I'm continuing my intense personal training and have added swimming lessons. Although it seems like a never-ending battle, I'm on a quest to figure out why the fitness training is not working, and the weight loss is going so slowly, despite being completely healthy and eating so well. How I'm so, so strong now, and can run and lift weights and am fitter than ever, but the fat won't budge.

I know you'd tell me that I'll get there. That visualization is the key - and I believe it. You know more than anyone how impatient I am, though!

So, there's not a whole lot to report, to be honest. I'm powering through the PhD so that it can be over.  When that's done, I can finally focus my energy on building a business and career I love through my blog. Visualizing the future I want.

Stephanie Wertz, I am always missing you. I know that's a strange tense to use, but it's true. Whether I'm wearing that half-broken necklace around my neck or not, you are in my thoughts, in my dreams, reminding me to keep going, to take breaks, to keep visualizing the future I want, to never stop imagining. 

I'll be home this summer for my sister's wedding, and I haven't been in Edmonton in almost 4 years. I'll have a coffee with whipped cream for you at Bogani Cafe, your favourite.

I'm sad you never made it to Europe. You would love it here. I love it here, and am excited to live the rest of my life in this city, as much as I love to travel and move around. I would love to take you to wineries and vineyards and castles and the Mediterranean Sea, and so, so much more. Sometimes, I walk along the beach or in the park and imagine you are here, too. 

Wherever your spirit or your energy is, I hope you are happy and safe, and that someday we will meet again.

Lots of love xxx


P.S. Dear readers, if you'd like to see my other annual tributes to Steph they are here:  201120122013201420152016, 2017

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Croatia: A Beautiful Country of History, Sea Views, & Natural Parks

*This post contains an affiliate link for a product I love

Do you believe in "better late than never"? Given all the work I've been doing over on my teaching blog, The Teaching Cove, and the strenous task that is a PhD, plus my English teaching jobs, this post is a good four months late! (In fact, it's so late that my friend Dayna and I have planned to meet up again already, in Berlin in April. So stay tuned for that, too)

However I late am, I did think you might all want to hear about the last travel adventures I had when Dayna came to visit last October. Now, we also did a lot in Barcelona itself, but that'll have to be another post on eco-friendly, vegan and ethical shops here in this beautiful city. Dayna definitely introduced me to some new places here in the neighbourhood of Gracia, and a whole bunch of restaurants.

Zagreb & Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
We actually met up in London first for a night because the flights were cheaper that way. Can you believe that? It was cheaper for me to fly Barcelona - London -Zagreb than simply going to Zagreb. If you're looking for a place to stay in London by the way, Temple Lodge Club was great.

 We landed in Zagreb on a Friday night in October, and basically spent the next day catching up, eating at great vegan restaurants and an awesome organic grocery store called Bio Bio that had vegan sandwiches to go. We ended up walking a lot. In fact, according to the app I had on my phone, we walked 25 km a day! (That was before I got my Garmin Vivosport). You know me, when I love a product, I rave about it, and when I hate a product, I hate on it.  So, I have to say that Garmin did a fabulous job making this fitness band light, elegant, comfortable, and easy to use (it even swims!). 

The Museum of Broken Relationships is definitely worth a visit. It was incredibly sad, quite artistic, and is basically full of people's sad love stories and accompanying items about the love they thought they had, or the one who got away. It's heartbreakingly beautiful.  You can even submit your own story here.

Our first stop after Zagreb was a bus ride to Plitvice Lakes so that we could hike. It was a three hour bus ride, so I ended up reading a book, Nourishing Traditions. Dayna had just come back from a Norwegian vegan health cruise, so I definitely learned a lot on that trip! I'm doing my best to add more fermented foods to my diet, and see how that affects my mysterious weight loss struggle.  Thankfully, I'm totally healthy and they can't find anything wrong with me after so many tests, but wow is my progress with my personal trainers so, so, so slow.

A beautiful, but way overcrowded boardwalk runs along Plitvice Lakes trails, but I wouldn't exactly have called it a hike. Apparently we were in low season, so it "wasn't crowded", but that was more than enough people for us! We stayed in a great hotel called Bellevue and enjoyed wine and veggies on the terrace for dinner.

Check out the slideshow below for Plitvice Lake photos. If you're on a mobile device that can't load Flash, click here to see the photoset.




So, this is the stop where we decided we are too old for hostels! We had a private room and "kitchen", but I think we're going to splurge for the hotel next time. Split itself is a beautiful town with excursions out to gorgeous islands.

We basically took a guided tour to see the Old Town and wandered around. We even managed to see a couple posing for wedding photos - quite the opposite experience to the Museum of Broken Relationships! They look so in love, don't they?

Couple posing for wedding photos in Split, Croatia

Donkey wagging tail in motion

We also stopped by some handmade stalls and bought a few items like Dayna's fleece poncho and my "donkey backpack", which ended up being quite useful! 

Our time in Split ended up being quite an adventure the following evening when we headed to one of the islands for a drink on the beach, only to find that the bus didn't show up on the way back - it was cold, rainy, and we were stranded. So, we tried to catch a taxi back to the mainland (a much shorter way than we had originally anticipated!), only to find that the road had been blocked by the police.

A few elderly women coming home with the day's groceries were trying to explain to us what happened - except they didn't speak English, and we didn't speak a word of Croatian. We managed to get them to understand that we could help them carry their groceries, and we ended up all walking up to the point of the police barricade.  Sadly, it turned out the reason for the barricade was that someone had committed suicide, had a gun, and the police were previously trying to talk him out of it.  Yikes.  Our rainy, cold walk back to the hostel didn't seem so bad after that.

Dubrovnik & Lokrum Island   

We started out time in Dubrovnik with a cable car ride and wow, was it beautiful. Short, kinda pricey, but totally worth it. Our accommodation improved drastically, as we stayed in a beautiful AirBnB with lovely hosts.  In fact, our host had been in the 1991 civil war and shared his experiences on Dubrovnik (the richer area of Croatia) wanting to separate from the rest of the country, and the war that ensued. His stories were sad, and a great reminder to be thankful that I'm from a peaceful country.

 The next day, we headed to a Game of Thrones tour for Dayna. I was more interested in the history as it occurred in real life, but I have to stay the places on the tours were beautiful, historic and make you feel as if you were walking in a different century.

Lokrum Island ended up being a gorgeous day away from the busy city full of tourists. We spent the day hiking the island, getting a bit lost, getting great de-knotting massages and randomly getting free tickets to the first annual music festival on the island. Unfortunately, the singers were really not great, and the set-up was disorganized, but hey - not bad for a free night out!

Check out the slideshow below for photos from Split, Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island. Remember to head here instead if you can't play Flash on the device you're on.   


Have you been to Croatia? Are you planning to go? I'd love to hear about your adventures in the comments below! Stay tuned for my annual memory post to Stephanie Wertz, coming up next week.

Enjoy your week!