Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Round About Qawra

Thanks to the North Western winds continuing to sweep over the island, the temperature has dropped to about 12 degrees. The boulevard where our hotel is situated is almost empty: this morning we went for a stroll there but we were hit full on by the storm; this is where it reaches the island first, not yet weakened by the many streets packed with houses and buildings that lie immediately behind the hotel complex. Malta is crowded. We saw from the air and later, during the taxi drive, how Valetta, the capital, together with neighbouring cities, spreads out over a large part of the island; all houses, no green; and shortly after you leave the city, the next one begins — Qawra, where we’re staying.

Qawra and its neighbour-cities cover an entire landslide (and some more) overlooking St. Paul’s Bay. Our hotel is on the North West side (the windy side right now); but if you cross over to the other side of town you’re at the other side of the land as well, where there’s another bay and considerably less wind. That’s where I am now: catching some sun, pretending the wind’s not there. I’m sitting on a bench; there’s a small patch of coastline that seems to have been overlooked by the hotels and clubs that cover the rest of the rocky beach: Bar Fuego (“Free Salsa lessons every Thursday and Friday night”), Diving School/Tauchschüle Octopus Garden (“The best place to be / Is under the sea”), Vintage Wine Bar (“Wine me, dine me the Vintage way”). All old and worn out and desolate this time of year. It seems I always end up in places like this, its glory day long gone, nothing new built since decades: every stone, every billboard, the stuff they sell in the shops: all reminders of better times than these.

View of Qawra from the boulevard

2006-03-07. No responses.

Maltese Spring

There’s a storm coming from the Northwest, bringing dark clouds on the horizon over the sea; causing the waves to come crushing down on what rocks they have left here on Malta; spraying the salty water in my face and mixing it with the tears that the same wind is blowing out of my eyes. I’m looking for a dry rock to sit down and write some quiet lines about our arrival, yesterday night; flight 117 from Amsterdam, stopover in Milan. What a contrast between the snow storm we drove through on our way to Schiphol airport, hoping the snow wouldn’t delay our flight; and the humid, lukewarm sea breeze that stroked us in the evening when we got off our plane (the best way you can leave a plane: on a staircase, down to the concrete of the runway). Today I have been stroked by spring as well: as I found out after the short walk along the coast line, looking out over the rocks and the pounding waves, amidst already flowering daisies and borago and euphorbia: leaving yellow stains of pollen on my pants. Spring has come, and gone again, for the clouds are getting near, covering the sun, chilling the air and driving me inside.

2006-03-06. No responses.

The Answers to All Your Questions

Beginning bloggers can often be recognized by their fixation on web server statistics. I don’t mind admitting that I’m no exception. It’s just as satisfying to see that people read my ramblings, as it is to see people use a computer program that I wrote. Besides, the stats can show you some very interesting information, like which posts are popular, and what other sites refer people to this blog. But what’s most intriguing, is the search words some people used that lead them here. With some search words I really wonder how they could have led here, and if the posts here ever gave people the answers they were looking for. (Then again, I guess that’s the beauty of the web: you usually find what you’re looking for, but more often you find ten other things you weren’t after but are still interesting enough to look into.)

For example, how about the person that asked his search engine of choice, literally, “did sauerkraut come from switzerland?” Why did they want to know? Was the answer ever found? Does it really matter where it comes from? Personally, I would say straight away: sauerkraut comes from the Alsace region in France. The best sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted, anyway. But sauerkraut is eaten in many places, and many varieties. In Holland it’s usually mashed with potatoes, baked lardons mixed in, and served with smoked sausage. We had braised cabbage in Slovenia, which looked a lot like sauerkraut but wasn’t sour at all. According to Wikipedia, sauerkraut originated in China. Strange, it’s never on the menu at the Chinese takeaway’s…

Sauerkraut-like cabbage on the Ljubljana market

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2006-01-07. 2 responses.

Breaking Records on Vacation

We always seem to have exceptional weather when we’re on vacation. “There’s never so much rain in August here,” local people tell us. Or, “Normally in this time of the year, we have 1 meter of snow, easily,” when we’ve come for winter sports. And now, when the average temperature in the South-West of France has been about 10 degrees Celsius in the last few weeks, M. and I arrived in a landscape full of fog and ice; and just this week that we’re here, all records have been broken. So glad we could help!

2005-12-28. No responses.

Fog and Ice in South-West France

The silence that is here all the time is now over-silenced by a thick blanket of fog and a white layer of ice crystals over the fields. It doesn’t matter, because inside, there’s a fire in the fireplace, cheese is on the table and the wine is uncorked. Let the feast begin!

2005-12-23. No responses.

First snow

Last Friday, Holland was surprised by heavy snowfall. The result was chaos on the roads, people being stuck in their car until late in the evening, people stuck in train stations… And all this because of 10 centimeters of snow. I shot (in my car, hands-free of course!) this rather dramatic-looking photo yesterday, on my way over from the office (which is located directly in the heart of the snow area), when it was still snowing continuously:

Personally, I wouldn’t mind if this first snow of the season will also be the last. I’m sure I was born for a warmer climate than this. Snow is great–for one week a year maximum, and provided I’m in a little hotel somewhere in France or Switzerland, sitting by the fire, with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, knowing there’ll be a good meal on the table later on… in that scenario, I don’t mind looking out the window seeing some snow flakes falling.
Our last winter vacation came close to this perfection. M. and I and some friends drove down to the tiny village of Bois Barbu, in the French Vercors region. We stayed in the Ferme du Bois Barbu, a small hotel with friendly owners. We made some great walks through the snowy landscape, and we even tried cross-country skiing (which was fun… for a day). This is a picture (actually two photos combined) from one of our walks:

2005-11-27. One response.

Eating and drinking in Slovenia

We loved the food and wine in Ljubljana. Since we were in a hotel, we had to eat out all the time; which I don’t complain about, but it’s always nice to do some cooking yourself in another country, to get a better feel for the ingredients and recipes there. From the Lonely Planet site, I got the impression that horse meat is very popular in Slovenia. And indeed, most restaurants serve one or two dishes with horse in them. We never ate that though, don’t know why, it’s just not done where I come from. Still, there were enough alternatives to choose from. A lot of meat, game, saucages; fish now and then; but also enough vegetable-based dishes (I’m not vegetarian, but I love to eat veggies). There’s quite a number of Italian restaurants, serving pasta dishes, gnocchi, risotto; and again, meat.

And the wine! Great wine all around; very young red wine that we drank at lunch in Luka Gourmet’s Lunch Café; fresh and fruity white and sparkling wines; and more aged reds, it was all there, all Slovene. Someone told us Slovenia doesn’t produce enough wine to export, so it will be hard finding any abroad. And as we travelled by train, we couldn’t take any with us. Another reason to come back some time, by car.

The restaurants we liked most:

  • Sokol, serves Slovene dishes; I had a big plate with all sorts of saucages, as well as the braised cabbage we often got; a bit like sauerkraut, but less sour. Nice young house wine served at the right temperature: cold.
  • Luka Gourmet’s Lunch Café is an Italian restaurant, always crowded at lunch time, though we always managed to find a table. Good simple pasta dishes, but they also have a daily changing menu that will bring some variation when you’ve got to know the regular menu, when you come there rather often. As we did. Their young house wine comes from a tap, and I could drink this every day. As we did.
  • Špajza has a large choice of Slovene and Italian dishes as well as an extensive wine list. We ate there on our last evening in Ljubljana, and a good choice that was. We loved the venison with berries (maybe a bit too hefty for the Merlot).

2005-11-20. No responses.

Pictures of Ljubljana

For me, the first picture is Ljubljana-in-a-photo: the castle on the mountain in the background, the eastern-looking church towers, one of the many art nouveau-style buildings in the foreground, and the central Presernov square, with the three bridges over the Ljubljana river behind it. (Click on a photo to enlarge it:)



Early Sunset

2005-11-19. No responses.

Slovene lessons

Finally the gray blanket over Ljubljana has lifted and we’re seeing some sun today for the first time, our last day in the Slovene capital. Yesterday, we visited the school museum; a tiny little museum in an old school building. We were asked to join a Slovene school class in a ‘lesson from the past’, a writing lesson as it would have been given in 1930. A very strict teacher first checked everyone’s hands to see if they were clean, then proceeded to teach how to write different letters–with old fashioned ink and pen. It was all fun to watch, even though we didn’t understand a word (it was all in Slovene).
In the evening, we were invited to the home of M.’s Slovene colleague for dinner. It’s strange how you expect everything to be different in another country, when so much turns out to be so recognizable and familiar. That’s something to realize when you read about faraway countries: people there work, and eat, and have children, and enjoy themselves, just like people do in your own environment. Another very pleasant evening.
Tomorrow we’re off on an excursion touring the country, so we’ll see some more of Slovenia outside its capital. And after that we’re on the train back home…

2005-11-17. One response.

Down and out (of plums) in Ljubljana

Am I addicted, beyond hope, if I spend half an hour of my vacation in Ljubljana in an Internet café? My friends and colleagues seem to think so. Go visit some local plum factory to taste some old wives’ plum juice, one of them wrote to me. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many plum factories around here (there must be something to do with plums here though, cause we get very juicy, tasty plums for breakfast every morning). And after two, three days, I believe I’ve seen all the major attractions of the city. Great city, don’t get me wrong; very relaxed and easy-going. The temperature and the temperament remind me of a small Dutch city. But I like a bit of rest as well, after so many months of working hard to implement the new Dutch health insurance system for a health insurance company. So I don’t mind spending an hour a day in the hotel sauna/pool, as well as coming to this Slovene Internet café (very cool place, with trendy looking people behind pc’s, I hope I fit in) for half an hour. Ok, I promise I’ll do something seriously touristy this afternoon. Even take my camera. Maybe visit some shady plum factory and taste the local plum juice.

2005-11-15. No responses.

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