Category Archives: travel

An art and food lovers guide to Barcelona

Barcelona has been up at the top of my wish list of places to visit as long as I can remember. As an art lover with a particular attraction to Art Nouveau, Modernism, Picasso, Dali and Gaudi and a leaning towards all things Mediterranean (food and weather wise) it’s a wonder I’ve never made it there before now. Somehow the trip had eluded me as other destinations took priority, often those involving visits to stay with family, or friends, or for work. Taking a trip just for ME was pretty much unheard of.

This trip was an extra special one; straight from the top of my bucket list to celebrate a very big birthday. It was totally indulgent and all about what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was explore the art and architecture of the Modernisme movement (or Catalonian modernism) and Catalonian cuisine.

I planned and researched meticulously putting together a detailed travel plan and a ‘must see’ list. I like to immerse myself in the detail, I’m a bit OCD like that,  but I also like a bit of flexibility and am not averse to chopping and changing as I go along, which was just as well as I hadn’t anticipated the enormity of Barcelona. We easily navigated the metro system and our apartment was very central (many things such as La Boqueria,the Cathedral, MACBA, Palau Guell were no more than ten minutes walk away) but still we ended up with an unfinished list, while still managing to clock up a whopping 30k in three days (seriously! we should have got into training before we left, my calves hurt for ages). It dawned on me the very first day that Barcelona was going to be impossible to explore in the time we had.

WHAT I SAW

I managed to pack in most of the arty things I wanted to see and only a few fell by the wayside, but that just means I have to go back and finish what I started!

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Park Guell

Park Guell – (Metro Green Line L3. Book tickets online to avoid the queues. Prices are 7 euros per person) Antoni Gaudi’s extravagant creation for the industrial tycoon Eusebi Guell was originally conceived as a modern housing development which began development in 1900. Sixty houses were planned, but only two were ever completed, one of which Gaudi, his father and niece eventually came to live in. The Park became city property in 1923 and was opened to the public in 1926. In 1984 it was made a World Heritage Site. We caught the Metro train to Vallcarca and then walked up the most hellish hill to the park. My advice; wear sensible shoes and take plenty of water to drink. I was thankful for my life in Wales which prepared me for the hills otherwise the trek there might have finished me off. The sculpture park itself is quite small, but there are about 3 kilometres of hilly paths that criss-cross and wind through the surrounding palm trees and gardens. The colour and architecture of the park reminded us a little of Portmeirion, except with sun and palm trees and a lot more mosaic. When you book you are alloted a time for entry and they are quite strict about adhering to it. We had to wait for about 15 minutes until the correct slot as we were a bit early but once inside we were able to stay as long as we wanted. Even in March the park was busy with tourists so I suspect in high season they may stick more rigidly to the 40 minute time limit we were supposed to have.  We could have spent longer in there but headed out because we were hungry (no picnics allowed inside the sculpture area) and had booked to go into the Gaudi House museum.

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Casa Gaudi

Gaudi House museum (Book tickets separately for the house, again online. 5.50 euros per person) was built as one of the showcase houses in the park and eventually lived in by Gaudi, his father and his niece. Despite Gaudi’s often outlandish and wildly imaginative architecture (Nigel, my partner, says he’s like a child with a doodle who doesn’t know when to stop, he just needs to keep adding one more thing, then another and another) he lived a very simple, pious life. Basic in his needs; he was religious, greatly influenced by the natural world, a vegetarian and remained single all his life. He lived in the house in Park Guell until in 1910 when he moved into his workshop on site at the Sagrada Familia to oversee work. In 1926 he died after being hit by a tram on his way to vespers.

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Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia (Metro to Sagrada Familia on L5, blue line or get L2 purple line. Book tickets online, 15 euros per person)- A visit to Gaudi’s unfinished work, which won’t see completion until 2026, has to be on everyones list. As we climbed the steps from the metro station and turned around I literally stepped back open-mouthed. The Sagrada is quite breathtaking in its architectural complexity. It is a mish-mash of religious iconography, elements from nature and impossibly fragile looking towers. They don’t look as though they should stay upright. The building is covered with intricate mosaic, sculpted leaves, figures, birds, shells, lizards and other animals carved into stone and wood. When you step inside it’s as though you’ve entered another world altogether. Outside is dark, gothic and imposing, which leads you to summise that the inside would be similarly intense but it is quite the opposite. As you step through the door the light hits you. A kaleidoscope of colour shines through the various stained glass windows reflecting different colours onto each wall; while one side is warm with reds, yellows and orange, the other streams with blues and greens. The colour seems to be fluid, washing over the interior. I was a little awestruck.IMG_0760 (2)

 

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MACBA – (Nearest metro stop is Universitat on L2 Purple line, but it was 10 minutes walk from our apartment. Book tickets online during high season. Costs 10 euro per person) If you love contemporary art you must pay this gallery a visit. We saved our trip for the one rainy day and the tail end of all that walking, when I literally couldn’t have walked more than ten minutes if I’d tried. The museum has an extensive permanent collection which we spent hours browsing and a temporary exhibition by Antoni Miralda, a Spanish artist who has made food his creative focus. The irony wasn’t lost on us especially when we saw Bread Line and our joint response was “all that wasted bread”!!

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Bread Line by Antoni Miralda

 

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Picasso Museum – While Gaudi was all about the large breathtaking structure, the flight of fancy and the ground breaking architectural design Picasso was quite unexpected. The museum certainly gave us our moneys worth, but since Picasso was one of the twentieth centuries most prolific artists that’s probably no surprise . The exhibited work spanned all of his notable periods; rose, blue, cubist, modernist, and stretched back to his early work as a fourteen year old which was a real eye opener.  Like with Gaudi’s architecture, my partner felt that Picasso was another artist who was somewhat self-indulgent and got a bit carried away, what he didn’t expect was his skill as a classical painter. Even at fourteen he was prodigiously talented, showing great skill as a copyist, slowly honing his talent until he matured and went his own way. If you think you know Picasso, this will show you that there is so much more to him. Book online during high season but we bought tickets there. Fourteen euros per adult pays entry to the normal exhibition and the temporary exhibition (which this time was his portraits).

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Barceloneta

Barceloneta – Friends had suggested that it was better to get out of the centre of Barcelona as the beach nearer to the city was dirty but I found the Barceloneta a lovely area. Fair enough the sand is quite harsh underfoot, great if you want to exfoliate the feet, but not as dirty as I’d expected. We took a stroll on our second morning while it was warm and sunny, past Columbus on his column and down to the sea where we sat, drank a morning coffee at a beach side cafe while watching the sand sculpture makers and then lazed on the beach eating our lunch before heading back towards the Picasso museum. The worst bits of the Barceloneta (and Barcelona as a whole) were the hawkers, although to give them their dues they’ve totally got every market covered. At the beach they tried to flog scarves and shawls, in Park Guell it was selfie sticks and water, outside MACBA which is a haunt for skateboarding students it was cheap beer, in town it was selfie sticks and those light up things that you throw in the air for kids (apart from when it rained, then they quickly swapped to umbrellas..like I said, they knew their market!)

EAT

La Boqueria

La Boqueria is undoubtedly one of the best food markets I have ever visited. A riot of colour, smells, texture and traders selling everything from chillies to cheese, fruit to fish, sea urchins, mushrooms, eggs, manchego, jamon, and everything in-between.

This is the place to come for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Before we headed off for the day we popped in to collect provisions. For my love (who is a philistine Yorkshireman and rather less of a food connoseur) it was a differing selection of empanadas (or as I suggested pasties) and for me it was salad with some sliced Iberico ham and manchego plus a selection of fruit and a smoothie for the road.

There is definitely something for everyone despite my partners singularity in his choices. I think if we’d been staying longer and had an apartment all to ourselves I’d have bought more of the unusual things on sale and experimented more at ‘home’. We also ran out of time and didn’t bring as much back as I’d have liked (it pretty much ended up being tons of chocolate!)

Ocana

Before we left for our trip I checked out ideas for places to eat. Luckily I am part of a food loving family and I’m lucky enough to have two food blogger / photographer cousins  (one of whom is on trend instagrammer Jack Baker) and another aunt/cousin supper club running combo. Jack’s sister Emily’s food and travel blog had a bit about Barcelona so I took some restaurant tips from her. On our first night in the city we wanted somewhere close by that we could walk to easily. Ocana was about ten minutes from our apartment on a lovely palm tree rimmed square just off La Rambas.  We sat outside to make the most of the warm Spanish evening, a bit of a novelty after the cold and damp of North Wales.

Naturally I went for sangria; in this case a blueberry sangria with Jerez brandy and lots of crushed berries. It knocked my socks off!  As it was late we didn’t want to get into a massive tapas fest so chose a dish of arroz caldoso to share. A bit like paella but rich and mushroomy, it was stuffed with lovely langoustine and squid.

Pudding was essential and Nigel finished with chocolate pie with dulce de leche while I went for crema catalana (of course! The traditional Catalan creme brulee just had to be done). The meal was delicious and the restaurant beautiful.

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Ocana on Placa Reial

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Our second meal and another suggestion from Emily. Sadly this time not quite living up to its review, especially after Ocana which was absolutely divine. I found it strange that they went to so much trouble bringing me fresh warm gluten-free bread, only to be told that there was at most three things I could eat on the menu. Even the desserts (including the ice cream) were apparently full of gluten. My Spanish was nowhere near good enough to try to discover if the gluten was something like a wafer that they could easily leave out and I ended up somewhat frustrated. Even the choices we eventually made were underwhelming.

Horiginal

We discovered Horiginal by accident. Wandering back from a night at the opera (yep, I also got to tick that off my bucket list; Carmina Burana at the Tivoli Theatre) it was too early to go back to the apartment so we went in search of an after show drink. The bar is pretty much next door to MACBA and convenient as a lunch or evening spot. On this night we just wanted a drink and a snack having eaten dinner earlier (a rather expensive and forgettable paella hastily grabbed on the street where our apartment was) so a hearty portion of patatas bravas and a Sangria sorted us out. On our last day we returned for lunch after our MACBA visit. A section of tapas including some seriously huge prawns, patatas bravas (again) although I skipped the Sangria this time. The portions were great, the only downside was the rather frosty lunch time service

Taller de Tapas

We’d deliberately avoided eating on La Ramblas expecting it to be expensive and touristy, but on our last night as a storm raged overhead and the rain became biblical we couldn’t face a long trek anywhere. I did a quick search on the internet for the best, reasonably priced restaurants close to La Ramblas and discovered Taller de Tapas. We’d walked past it several times but hadn’t paid it any attention but this time decided to give it a go. On arrival the place was packed with cold wet tourists, but we only had to wait dripping by the door for about ten minutes before a table became available.

As it was our last night we decided to go for it. We started with a selection of tapas; Mussels with herbs, sautéed wild mushrooms, Spanish tortilla and chicken kebab with herbs and spices. All were delicious and the portions were good; they would have been too much for me, but I reckon my partner could have eaten the paella on his own. Since we were sharing everything and grazing at a leisurely pace (we weren’t in a big hurry to go back out in the rain) we ordered plenty;  the tapas and the paella was filling, but left plenty of room for dessert. True to predictable form I chose Catalan creme brulee (I can’t help it, its my favourite and everything else had gluten in it) while my partner went for almond tart. All of this plus a couple of beers and Sangria and it didn’t break the bank. This was the best spontaneous find of the week!

STAY

We looked at B&B’s and hotels but then decided to go for Airbnb in order to save money on accommodation so we could do and see more while we were there. We found ourselves a reasonable budget apartment.  At 40 euros the one I found seemed too cheap to be true and perhaps a bit of a risk but I wasn’t going to spend a fortune on somewhere that we were just going to be sleeping.

There are pluses and minuses to going budget. The room was clean, basic, with a private bathroom and completely adequate. It was just off La Rambla so close to everything, close to Liceu Metro station with an array of shops, bars and cafes next door. In reality we spent very little time there.

The down side? The apartment was on the fourth floor with no lift. The street was noisy at night and we seemed to be sharing with quite a few others so the ‘shared’ space (kitchen and lounge) didn’t seem so inviting. We used the kitchen for breakfast but I got the impression that a couple of the guys there were long-term room renters. I think maybe we would have cooked for ourselves or used the apartment more if we’d had it to ourselves but it was fine because we were only there for a few days.

We flew from Liverpool to Barcelona and then caught the train into the city and then the Metro to Liceu stop. On the way back we caught the airport bus (Aerobus) from Placa Catalunya which was much more convenient

Other stuff we didn’t quite get around to….. On our first night we took a walk up to Passeig de Gracia so I could get my first glimpse of Gaudi. I was impatient and couldn’t wait but as it turned out we didn’t ever make it back to go inside. La Pedrera and Casa Batllo were both lit up and I took a few pictures but that’s as far as it went. There was so much to see and its a place that draws you in so obviously I’ll just have to go back again and catch the places I missed first time around!

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Filed under Food travel, Spain, travel, Uncategorized

The RNLI Fish Supper at Moelfre lifeboat station

Next month see’s the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Fish Supper launch a new fundraising event created to raise money and awareness of the work the RNLI, but also to encourage individual’s to eat more fish!

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Between the 9th and 11th October individual’s can host their own Fish Supper, inviting family and friends to share the meal while collecting donations and raising money for the RNLI charity. It doesn’t matter if you are an accomplished chef, cook or total amateur it’s about sharing and supporting our hard-working primarily volunteer, lifeboat crews who are on call 24 hours a day. Over 8,000 RNLI volunteer crew members look after our coastal waters across the UK and Ireland regularly missing their evening meals, so get your friends together and eat in their honour!

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As I live close to the sea and act as a firm advocate for local seafood I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend the inaugural fish supper held at Moelfre Lifeboat station on Anglesey. Around 30 guests including lifeboat men and women, fishermen, seafood suppliers and restauranteurs gathered to sample canapes, made with locally supplied seafood followed by traditional fish and chips supplied by Moelfre’s Coastal cafe and Fish Bar.

Cywain Pysgod (which means fish in Welsh) supported the event. They are a project run by local business support company Menter a Busnes, and co-ordinated by Caroline Dawson, a passionate supporter of local seafood. Their aim is to create a more profitable and sustainable Welsh Fisheries sector by increasing the value of the catch through identifying new markets and developing new products.

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So, go on… get involved! Anyone can host a fish supper. There is a special page on the website where you can register. You will be sent a free party pack which includes recipe inspiration, party game ideas and place-name cards. The Fish Supper doesn’t have to be held between 9–11 October, it’s quite flexible although the RNLI asks that all Fish Supper donations are received by 7 November.

Our evening finished spectacularly with the launch of the lifeboat, a rare opportunity for me as it’s about half an hours drive from where I live, but it was a clear beautiful evening, with stunning views over the Irish sea and all in all it was quite exciting!

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Filed under sustainable fish, travel, Wales tourism

The sensory pleasure of Bristol

I visited Bristol once for an interview at the university. This was years ago when I was still an academic researcher, searching for a highly sought after PhD place just before I had kids. Despite seeing little of the city I liked the feel of the place; it had a nice vibe and the people were friendly.  I didn’t get the PhD place so never discovered more and was just left with that brief first impression.

Last year the teen started visiting Bristol. She too fell in love with its hippy vibe, its cool vintage shops, eclectic night life and variety of festival loving people. She fitted right in. I promised myself a return visit to see for myself exactly what it was she had fallen in love with, and as several of my ‘Green Man’ crew friends live there (one of whom just a couple of weeks away from having her first baby) I took the opportunity on a rare weekend off work.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love all over again. Precisely half an hour I’d say. As soon as I sat down in the sun outside The Bristolian with a late lunch I knew I didn’t want to go home. One of the friends with whom I stayed lives in Montpelier, arguably the most vibrant, up and coming part of the city where everyone is hip, cool and arty. Essential accessories include a guitar, a skateboard and a beard (although not if you are a woman of course…save that for Eurovision).

I felt at home among the vintage shops, graffiti adorned walls and independent cafes and shops. The share and recycle culture is clear. Just up the road from my friend’s house is the street where locals rioted in protest at a Tesco moving in. I’d probably have been one of them if I lived there. Sadly it didn’t stop the multinational opening shop, but they did make their point loud and clear.

Imagine the slightly stoned crowd of a festival, transplant it back in a city and there you have Bristol. Ok so I happened to visit on a particularly sun drenched weekend, this probably helped, and the Rave On Avon music festival (we went to see a band playing as part of the festival, the Bombs with their soulful, funky trip hop tinged with a bit of rock) was in full swing, but it seems to me that every weekend has a festival of some kind happening just down the road, plus there is street art everywhere, so many local food producers, purveyors and markets, cool community owned and run venues like The Canteen where we watched the Bombs and music hanging in the air. They even have their own currency!! Bristol is a city of sensory overload, but not in the 100-miles-an-hour London kind of way, of community, of recycling…..I could go on but I’ll tell you what, feast your eyes on the pictures instead…they will show you exactly why I love Bristol!

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Thali cafe at the Tobacco Factory Produce market

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Local produce and street art at the Tobacco Factory

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Eli enjoying a gigantic cheese straw

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More Love at the Old Police Station

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Aren’t we all 🙂

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Say No to Monsanto…mural at Stokes Croft

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I lost my heart to Portmeirion…my favourite place in North Wales

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First let me say this is not a food post, although  my reasons for visiting Portmeirion were food related. The intention was to go with my friend Sunnie on a fact-finding mission and to do a bit of PR for her dairy free toffee and chocolate (her brand is Toffi Toffee) at the Blas ar Fwyd trade show. As one of my primary Welsh produce suppliers it was a ‘business trip’ that soon became something more pleasurable.

For those not familiar with Portmeirion it was created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. A passionate conservationist and devoted to the protection and preservation rural Wales, and the landscape in general. Williams-Ellis began building the Italianate village of Portmeirion in the 1920’s. Purchased for £20,000 in 1925 he described it as

 “a neglected wilderness – long abandoned by those romantics who had realised the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping…into sorrowful bankruptcy.” 

He then changed its original name, AberIâ (Glacial Estuary) toPortmeirion: Port because of the coastal location andMeirion as this is Welsh for Merioneth, the county in which it lay (quote and history taken from thePortmeirion website) and began to map out his plans. Over the next 50 years he lovingly constructed what is now an absolute romantics dream. His original insights into its unique appeal were spot on, but he avoided stumbling into the same bankrupcy trap as other speculators through careful planning, salvage, the collection of artifacts and later on donations from other architects or salvagers. His plans were workable and with his eye for recycling, conservation and salvage he created what he called

“a home for fallen buildings”

I love that! and maybe that is a reason i’m so drawn to the place (maybe its the perfect home for fallen women?) Its eclectic, unusual, recycled, thrown together but in the most achingly beautiful way.

The first thing that grabs you as you enter the village is it fantasy like architecture; all sensual curves, nymphs on plinths, ethereal looking statues of women in flowing robes, Grecian pillars aplenty and everything doused in a rainbow swathe of warm Mediterranean colours. It immediately reminds me of sunny holidays, transporting me back to Italy and grape picking in the sun, and confusing me into believing I’ve been transported to somewhere more exotic. Anyone could be forgiven for forgetting they were in Wales.

Then there are the grounds; From the almost tropical sculpted gardens (Portmeirion seems to have its own little microclimate of sun and wellbeing), 1920’s style lido’s, secret woods and stunning views over the estuary you couldn’t fail to fall in love. With the place and whoever you are with. On the day we visited the spring flowers were in full bloom; a magnolia spilling petals over a carpet of daffodils, with the sea as a back drop.

I’ve had more than one romantic encounter with Portmeirion and its no secret that I spent my first date with my (now ex) husband there.  Since we spent twenty years together and had two beautiful children my memories are not sad, but joyful that it marked the beginning of something special.

If this isn’t enough to entice you, Portmeirion is also that place where they filmed the 1960’s cult classic The Prisoner . Surreal, intriguing and the inspiration for many searching questions back in the day…what does it all mean? The series remains a cult and has its own fan club ‘Six of One’ and I’m sure some of the questions about control still resonate.

I revisit regularly. It’s that kind of place; once bitten forever smitten and all that and I find myself drawn back again and again (In the past six months I have attended Festival No.6, which is held there in September. I also returned to do a food demonstration at the Christmas Food and Drink Festival in December and now, as the weather slowly improves again last week.

Portmeirion is open throughout the year;

Ticket prices can be found here but are reduced during the winter months. Reduced prices can be found here

You can also buy an annual pass

Under 5’s go free and no dog’s are allowed on the site

The site has a range of other attractions (if the beauty of the place is not enough!!) including gift shops and cafe’s. There are two fantastic restaurants on the site, the brasserie in Castell Deudraeth which I have eaten in on previous visits and loved and the highly acclaimed Hotel Portmeirion  which much to my shame I have never managed to eat in.

If you wanted to extend your stay there are hotel rooms in Castell Deudraeth, The Hotel Portmeirion or you can book to stay in one of the self-catering cottages within the village itself. I’ve always promised myself that I will, one day, but have never quite got round to it (or to be fair been able to afford it!)

Their website also has many special offers, especially in the off-season. They are currently advertising Spring Afternoon Tea Breaks

To contact Portmeirion about any of these offers or for further information its best to go to their website here

Come and visit, I promise you its wroth it…but you might never want to leave!

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A brief introduction to Kiel

This is my third visit to Kiel, one the smaller German cities that sits on the coast of the Baltic sea. It’s the capital city of Schleswig-Holstein, the most northern of Germany’s sixteen states and although it’s not the most popular destination for UK tourists it is a real hub for visitors heading up from Southern Germany and those travelling over on ferries from the Scandinavian countries.

Many tourists from elsewhere in Europe miss Kiel possibly in the mistaken belief that it is either a/generally cold and not the place for a beach holiday or b/ that it is simply the gateway to Scandinavia (it has the main ferry terminal offering overnight trips to Oslo, Gottenburg and Klaipeda in Lithuania) and is very close to the Danish border. Plus its a stop off point for cruise ships travelling the Baltic countries. To think that this is all it has to offer is a long way from the truth.

Kiel may not have the most historic or beautiful buildings (it had the shit bombed out of it during the war) but it does have a rich and interesting history and an air of culture and heritage. It has always been one of the major maritime centres of Germany, home to the German Navy’s Baltic Fleet and a centre for high-tech shipbuilding (hence it becoming a target for allied bombers). It’s sailing culture remains strong as Kiel plays host to many international sailing events, these include the Kieler Woche (Kiel Week) the biggest sailing event in the World which usually takes place during the last week of June. But there are lots of smaller events popping up at one time or another throughout May and June (which is often when the weather is at its best)..in fact the weekend I visited saw a childrens festival on the harbour, a sailing festival and a kids football championship (out where I was staying)

Kiel makes a great base for exploring Northern Germany and the Baltic sea beaches, which have much to offer. There are plenty to choose from as they flank both sides of the Kieler Forde, the inlet from the Baltic that runs down to the city. All are very clean and sandy, have extremely safe waters (shallow, calm and no with big choppy waves) and are very popular with families (especially those with small kids). Of course they tend to be busy around the sailing weeks, so double-check before visiting if you don’t fancy tangling with the sailing set.

I actually stayed about 15 kilometres outside Kiel with hosts living on the West side of the Forde. The village of Danischenhagen is very convenient  for the beaches of Strande and Schilksee (only 5 kilometres), while on the East side the beaches of Monkeberg, Schoenberg and Laboe (where you can visit the Laboe Naval Memorial and the U-995; the world’s only remaining Type VII U-boat) a must-see for kids and adults alike

As the Kieler Forde opens out to the open sea more beaches line with flanked by numerous little campsites that run up and down the coastal area.

This part of Germany was once owned by Denmark (hence some of the village names) and is so close to the border that there are some similarities in the food, but whether this is due to Scandinavian influences or simply because it is so close to the sea is unclear. Whatever the influences this is a great place for seafood lovers. With regular fish markets, stalls and great restaurants there is plenty of choice.

Here are a few impressions from in and around Kiel …

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Tall ships in the harbour for a sailing festival

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Bunker 19: Left over from the war…spot the shrapnel and shell holes in this air raid bunker, turned cinema/theatre/art venue on Kiel University campus

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Sails and rigging

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13th century St. Nicholas’ church

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U-995 at Leboe

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Rathaus and the Opera House

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Sandy beach at Schilksee…you see the wicker chairs everywhere in the summer

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street food German style

Travel:

There are various cheap flights to be found if you search around. I flew Easyjet from Manchester airport.  They also fly from Gatwick and various other UK airports.

From Hamburg I travelled to Kiel by Kielius bus. It conveniently pulls up right outside Terminal 1 arrivals, and the journey ends at the main bus terminal in Kiel. It costs 19 euro one way and stops close to plenty of budget and mid priced hotels.  Basic Hotel on Muhliusstrasse has three stars and is a popular choice, but there is a greater selection of accommodation to be found here. If you prefer to book an apartment there are several in and around Kiel including two overlooking the sea at Laboe (see HouseTrip)

For those travelling onwards and into Scandinavia, ferries can be booked online or directly at the ferry terminus which is impossible to miss as its on the harbour, close to the railway station and many of the hotels.

Look out for next post which is all about FOOD!

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Filed under German food, photography, travel, Travelling with kids

March mayhem (with added snow, birds and landscapes, but not much food)

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Snow in the village

Well, doesn’t time fly? Its been over two weeks since my last post and such a lot has happened. Every day I intend to write and then something else comes along to stop me.

I’m not sure where to begin with all the things that fill my days; whether it’s behind the scenes stuff like planning for all the dinners coming up in April (four in one week!!) or responding to requests for quotes, putting together invoices, menu selection and ordering. Theres not much glamour there but its all an essential part of my job.

Of course I prefer the interesting meetings where we discuss new ideas or presenting at mentoring sessions. I get out for lunch, meet people away from the four walls of my house and either put together plans or get to talk about me! (That sounds sooo narcissistic, but how many of us don’t relish the opportunity show pride in our achievements and tell others about what we’ve done). Last week I was out talking to the catering students at Llandrillo College in my role as a Dynamo role model, flying the flag for Big Ideas Wales and inspiring others to do follow their dreams….  And when I’m not fitting all of that in I’m juggling the demands of two kids (one a teenager with ADHD and my partner. After all of that there are times when I have little energy left for writing.

This particular two weeks has proved extra challenging. I’ve braved snow (yep, we snowed in again, for the second time this year. In January its expected but March!! Now that’s a bit crazy), a chaotic visit to my parents, a dislocated shoulder (my partner) plus a rather nasty and aggressive 24 hour virus that took out everyone in the house one by one. Most of our holiday plans were shelved.

One of the reasons I was in London was to hold a pop-up teashop for those attending the Easter art workshops at Wing Asylum.  I had to bring a full catering kit with me, tins, plates, ingredients, all of which were to be packed into my van. Not an easy task when it’s parked at the bottom of the village separated from my house by a steep, ice packed impassable hill. This called for improvisation. We had to tie each crate, suitcase and bag to a wooden toboggan and gingerly guide it through snow and over treacherous patches of ice. Ice grip shoes were necessary. It took four trips before we finally got on our way.

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The icy approach to my house

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The kids bike….left out in the garden

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strapping everything to a toboggan

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roses…well they’re under there somewhere

Next I had to cook and prepare cakes and tarts in a small, unfamiliar kitchen, with family members wandering in and out at will and with little space to stack boxes, crates or anything really.My mothers house is not designed to accommodate eight people so chaos reigned supreme. For a whole week.

My birthday came and went (I barely noticed it, but promised myself extended celebrations once the job had finished) and then the Wing Asylum opening night was upon us. A late night drunken affair in the toe and finger numbingly cold Asylum Chapel in Peckham. Courvoissier cocktails served to render some incapable and memories of the night are a little hazy.

We all surfaced the following morning felling like we’d been punched in the head but after caffeine, paracetamol and a BLT were fit enough to pack up our kit and drive into an uncharacteristically quiet London.

Even here things were not simple. The urn fused the electrics. The microwave in the van stopped working (so no hot chocolate…disaster!!) and we froze yet again….The stall was a success despite it all, but the organisers were left claiming NEVER to run kids workshops again after one piece sustained damage, and that night my son too went down with the dreaded lurgy.

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Asylum….and my cake stall

On Saturday I finally got to celebrate my birthday. Even our late dinner at Moro (a hugely popular North African/Lebanese/Spanish influenced restaurant run by highly regarded chefs, husband and wife team Sam and Sam Clark) turned into a drama…the closest tube station was, as it turned out,  closed. We hadn’t realised and ended up walking from Barbican arriving hot, flustered, starving and 20 minutes late. The food was worth the drama, but this being my birthday dinner I wasn’t allowed to ‘work’….i.e. no photo’s, no reviewing. It is a place I would definitely like to revisit though and we all agreed the food was superb.

We intended to go for drinks after dinner but discovered we only had half an hour to get back to London Bridge for the last train home. We panicked as we discovered a second tube station closed so in desperation hailed a cab

Can you get us to London Bridge in 15 minutes? We begged.

She promised to do her best and after 11 minutes of hair-raising driving, back ache inducing races across speed bumps…and minus my cervix which I left back at a crossing on route, we arrived with 10 minutes to spare. I’m sure this did nothing for our digestion but we got home and that’s the main thing.

Easter Sunday was somewhat underwhelming. The teen had gone off to a ‘illegal rave’ in London and had yet to return….the kid was still recovering from the virus and late in the morning my sister emerged with her boyfriend late announcing that they too had been hit by ‘the bug’ . We held a very late and slightly half-hearted Easter egg hunt and even today the eggs are still pretty much intact.

With my 8 hour shoulder of lamb cooking in the oven we were all a bit dejected. My sister claimed that this must be the worst day ever to come down with a stomach bug and we all struggled to motivate ourselves. With a little sun returning and a suggestion that spring might yet arrive we blew the cobwebs away with a walk around the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes in Essex admiring award-winning Visitors Centre and Bird Hide (designed by my sisters firm Van Heyningen and Haward)

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RSPB Reserve, Rainham

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The Purfleet Hide

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Cold but beautiful….you’d never know how close to the M25 you are

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The bird hide

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Despite it all we managed to fit in a fair bit….and most had recovered enough to enjoy an Easter Sunday dinner and glass of wine (albeit a small one for some).

The RSPB Visitor Centre, car park and reserve trails are open 9.30 am to 4.30 pm from 1 November-31 March and 9.30 am to 5 pm from 1 April-31 October. There are tons of things for kids to do aside from bird spotting plus a great walk around the perimeter of the lakes.  My ten-year old had a great afternoon. For more info check here

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Filed under photography, travel, Travelling with kids

Welsh produce in the Brecon Beacons

Welsh cheeses and home made chutney

As most regular readers of my blog will know I am a fiercely vocal advocate for the buying of local seasonal produce. This was no exception during my Green Man crew catering stint. I admit I had a lot of help before hand, having been sent a pretty thorough list of local businesses who were the most lovely, helpful bunch. So lovely in fact, that I thought I’d share them with my readers. Just in case you ever visit the Brecon Beacons, or if you live close to Crickhowell, or even if you are looking to buy your food on route to the Green Man festival you may want to pop along and sample their fabulous produce.

First stop would be Cashell’s (01873 810405); a fantastic family butchers and delicatessen stocking all things Welsh. I used an absolute  mountain of their smoked bacon, sausages, beef, lamb, mince and gammon. They supplied a never-ending choice of Welsh cheese for our popular lunchtime cheese board, which comprised cheeses from Caws Cenarth, the Snowdonia cheese company (Black Bomber and Green Thunder were firm favourites) and the Blaenavon Cheddar company, whose Taffi was a winner. Combined with both mine and Del from Calon y Cegin’s chutneys they went down a storm.

On to Askews family bakery (01873 810345), who supplied our bread and rolls. The rolls were soft, fresh and floury and everyone commented on how nice they were. We also sourced a lovely, cakey, bara brith from them which proved itself to be a very good staple for afternoon tea and a firm favourite with the crew.

enormous vat full of carrot and coriander soup…served with Askews buns

Our dairy man Carl (01873 810881) kept us supplied with milk, eggs, cream and lovely butter, although it would have been nice if the butter had been Welsh.

The only disappointment was the lack of local/British produce from the vegetable wholesaler. Quality was at times variable (very under ripe pears for example, which could have been locally sourced and would have been seasonal and ripe and tomatoes which are plentiful in the UK) and a lot was from overseas. On the other hand they were a lovely, friendly and helpful bunch who tried to make sure we had what we needed promptly.

Del and I brought a lot of our own ingredients such as preserved lemons, smoked paprika, sumac, Keralan chicken spices etc. but there came a point when even we ran out. I tried to avoid supermarket ordering on the whole, but there are some things you just can’t get in the local shop and without a market stocking exotic produce the next best choice was Waitrose in Abergavenny. They supplied most of the unusual ingredients we wanted such as Orzo, Tagine spices like Ras al Hanout, Harissa and balsamic vinegar. Anything that could be bought in bulk we picked up from Bookers, the local cash and carry.

Our suppliers didn’t let us down and so we had great, local food to offer the crew we cooked for. They felt like part of the family we spent so much time on the phone to them and its a shame that I won’t get to see them again until next year (hopefully).

The food wasn’t fancy. It was simple, well cooked and wholesome, think well-flavoured freshly made soups, stews, tagine, chilli and curries. On our last night, by popular demand I made a massive creamy fish pie with a fennel and endive salad followed by lemon meringue pie. Cashell’s supplied the fish at cost price and for that both I and the rest of the crew are eternally grateful. It made our week. I think and I hope we made people very happy and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

sliced, freshly cooked gammon…a lunch time staple along with soup, cheese and a couple of enormous salads

Denise x

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Filed under British food, Butchers, festival catering, home cooking, local produce, Organic meat, Sources and suppliers, travel, welsh cheese

Seasonal eating in Germany

I have to say Germany and Kiel were quite unexpected. I’ve been there before, but last time I didn’t really go looking for culinary uniqueness, it was a flying visit but this time was different. I was staying for nine days so consequently I had plenty of time to soak up the traditions, hunt for the unusual and generally eat the way the Germans do.

I’m not saying I ate out much, with five kids between us, four of them under nine and both families fairly skint, plans for expensive and elaborate dining were shelved, so we did what we always do best, cook at home, sharing ideas and preparation until we came up with a variety of hearty, wholesome home cooked dinners, using lots and  lots of local produce. I suppose it was a busman’s holiday really, lots of cooking for lots of people, interspersed during the week with three days English language teaching at Kiel University, but the experience, even the work bit, was totally enjoyable all the same. Some of my students had even googled me before I arrived and discovered my alternative foodie occupation so we spent a great time discussing that as well.

Following our trip to the market on Saturday we were well stocked for the weekend. Easter Sunday began with the obligatory Easter egg hunt followed by a late and lazy breakfast which consisted of lots of different German cheeses, meats and salami, fruit, fresh bread and coffee. This was our friends usual continental routine. During the week muesli, fruit and yogurt started the day, but of course while we were staying there were much more lazy breakfasts like this. While the sun blazed we simply sat, relaxed, ate and even managed a glass of Easter Sunday champagne. Lunch was unnecessary since breakfast ran on forever, in fact it probably only finished a couple of hours before we began to think about the barbecue we were having that evening.

In between this we drank what became known as ‘girly beer’ (basically beer, such as Becks, ready mixed with lemon or lime, or grapefruit) and the occasional cup of tea accompanied by a traditional German afternoon tea cake (cherry and chocolate).

Annette’s secret recipe chocolate and cherry cake…delicious and I’m determined to get that recipe!!

Later more friends arrived; we barbecued trout with herbs, wild garlic and lemon, some extremely phallic looking white asparagus marinated with olive oil and basil, chicken sate, ribs with a honey dressing and German sausages. For pudding the kids made Eton mess, a household favourite, with strawberries, cream and meringues.

traditional Easter bonfire...they seem to have them everywhere!

I feel almost guilty to admit that every day was much the same; fresh rolls, fruit, cheese and salami, followed by cake and a large late dinner. We tried various specialities. At the coast we had Fischbrochen basically freshly caught fish either marinated, with herbs or smoked and served in a bun with mayonnaise or a sauce and salad. I had smoked mackerel with horseradish, particularly yummy. Another night we took the kids bowling. I’ve never seen as classy a restaurant attached to a bowling alley anywhere else, ever. After a couple of games we sat down to eat. Sean decided to try another speciality currywurst. Our local friends did warn him not to choose this but he opted to ignore advice. Currywurst is basically German sausage in a tomato ketchup kind of curry sauce. It’s very popular there although Sean did proclaim that he chose unwisely, I had a taste and it was absolutely foul. Probably the kind of thing you would pick up after the pub when drunk! The kids chose a hearty portion of sausage or fish and chips, whilst the sensible adults that chose wisely went for steak, local white asparagus and a sauce of some kind. Mine came with a generous helping of light, buttery Hollandaise sauce, while one of my companions went for an unusual sounding strawberry chilli chutney. It was certainly different but unexpectedly lovely. A little hint of a chilli kick, but not too much, and still with the distinctive strawberry taste and sweetness. It accompanied the asparagus beautifully. The decent sized steak came with a generous portion of garlicky herb butter and was fantastic, succulent, full of flavour and cooked perfectly medium rare. The asparagus was tender and cooked to perfection. I couldn’t have asked for more.

the bowling alley which adjoined the restaurantThe specials board…this was definitely the list to choose from

Currywurst…the most disgusting thing eversteak with roasted vegetables and chips

white asparagus with strawberry chilli chutney

my steak and asparagus with hollandaise

We ate so much yummy stuff it’s hard to pick a favourite …spiced pork roasts with apple sauce; lasagne made with smoked speck as well as mince; a variety of cheeses and salami and of course a mountain of apple cake, lemon cake, local marzipan and beer. Of course all of that means that my souvenir from Kiel is an extra half a stone, but hey it was worth it.

All of those tastes are still running through my head, but I keep coming back to that white asparagus and hollandaise. My lasting impression that there is more to German food than meets the eye, it’s not overtly elaborate but with so many unexpected high points, discoveries of tastes and flavours, I now know that there is definitely more to German food than just beer and Bratwurst.

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Filed under baking, family budget cooking, German food, travel, Travelling with kids, Uncategorized

An Easter postcard from Kiel

coloured eggs on Easter Saturday

Easter in Germany is a far different experience from the one back home. One of the traditions I like the most is the dying and painting of eggs, an activity carried out by children all over Germany in the run up to Easter.  Common in schools, kindergartens and at home, the eggs they create end up decorating the house for Easter Sunday. I think it’s a shame that these kind of activities have died out in Britain and that there is very little creativity left. These days consumerism has taken over and everyone has fallen into the trap of buying large quantities of huge expensive branded eggs. Here in Germany however there is great excitement, but without much of this consumerist obsession; the Easter egg hunt is the thing, with lots of little eggs and chocolate treats being hidden around the house or garden. The children love the search, running off in eager anticipation clutching their baskets determined to find as many as they can. I liked this a lot and although secretly I wondered if my kids would miss their large trashy Easter eggs, I don’t think they did since both rushed around with mad enthusiasm, scrabbling through plants trying cramming their baskets to the brim before bringing them back to add to the stack ready for sharing at the end of the hunt. As well as chocolate eggs, each child had their own papier-mache egg filled with a special gift just for them. In the case of the teen it was jewellery and a leopard print belt, while the kids had a wealth of lego and toys.

home painted eggs

Easter traditions were in abundance at the local produce market in Kiel on Easter Saturday. Coloured eggs adorned stalls, Easter baskets for sale everywhere, as well as the usual range of predominantly local produce. The farmers markets in the UK are a quarter of the size of these places and sell a tiny choice of produce in comparison. Here local farmers sell their own goods as well as buying and selling produce from their close European neighbours. Local German cheeses share a counter with those from France, Holland, Switzerland and Austria; Dutch tulips sold along with those grown closer to home. It was a great start to the Easter weekend, providing an opportunity to discover the tastes and specialities of Northern Germany and shopping with friends who are locals, gave an even greater insight into the amazing seasonal produce available.

In some ways it’s not that different to Britain particularly the kind of produce on sale, although everything seems ready a little earlier. This may just be a fluke due to the particularly hot weather, (since Kiel probably has the same kind of climate to Britain, especially North Wales), but there certainly were things in greater abundance than in Wales. White asparagus for example was well and truly in season and we bought a big bunch for barbecuing on Sunday. There was also lots of rhubarb, Feldsalat (or field salad in English) which looked pretty much like lambs lettuce to me, Baerlauch or ramsons (wild garlic in English which has been in for some weeks back home) and a variety of early salad leaves. We got a bit carried away stocking up ready for our alternative Easter Sunday celebrations. We bought not only fresh salads but also a variety of cheeses, meats, german bread, sweets and even meringues for dessert.

I love markets in Europe and it was a brilliant way to spend Saturday morning. Laden with produce and chocolate we headed back home in preparation for a trip to the beach.


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