Category Archives: Food

Europe 2015 Diary Entry IX – Switzerland

One Two years later, I’m finally finding the time to document my memories of our trip. I’m calling them diary entries, because they’re mostly thought dumps to recall as many details as possible – mostly for memory sake. I’m already forgetting little details about our trip, which is sad as it was really a once in a lifetime experience that I want to remember for the rest of my life. So these posts will be long and full of pictures. Consider yourself warned. 🙂

After hopping around from city to city for a few months, I started to feel unsettled and found myself wanting to stay put for a while to catch my breath. Having Granichen as our “home base” was perfect, because it gave me a sense of stability for the majority of the time we spent in Europe.

I already wrote about our time in Granichen, so I’ll talk about a few of the other Swiss cities (Locarno, Basel, Olten, Lenzburg) that we managed to visit.

Here’s a handy map of Switzerland. Thank you, internet (source).

Locarno
This is one of the prettiest Swiss cities I’ve been to, and it was my most memorable day trip. We left Granichen late one morning and arrived in Locarno a few hours later. The train ride itself is stunning, and we were able to explore Locarno under clear, sunny weather.

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In our typical travel style, we packed lunches to eat on the train and saved our money to spend on coffee and pastries instead.

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Eating sandwiches with homemade bread (or fresh bread from our local Swiss-German bakery) while riding trains to different places is one of my happiest memories.

Locarno is on the Italian side of Switzerland, so everybody says Ciao! instead of Grütze! and the Italian influence is everywhere. It’s amazing.

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Despite their good looks, swans never hesitate to hiss at you if you get too close to them.
Not long after we took this photo, we went to a nearby shop and bought a Toblerone. It seemed fitting.

Like Lucerne (another stunning city that we’ve visited in the past), Locarno is incredibly gorgeous and scenic. It’s like stepping into a postcard. As pretty as it is, I’m not exactly sure what more you can do there other than gawk at the pretty mountains and shop if you have excess amounts of money to spend.

We sat on a bench and stared at the mountains in the background for what felt like hours. In reality, it was probably more like 30 minutes and then we were done. I couldn’t see myself coming back here to stay for more than a day unless I had a local showing me around, or a specific event to attend (like a race, maybe?).

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Basel
To keep our solo long runs interesting, Mike and I would often choose a nearby city to run and finish our long runs at. Once we had both finished (often Mike would be done long before me), we’d meet at a cafe to enjoy a post-run coffee and pastry before taking the train home. It was the perfect way to knock out a long run without getting bored since Granichen itself is really small, and there are only so many kms you can cover before you start running in circles.

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Basel

One Sunday, we each spent 35km slowly making our way to Basel. The run itself was interesting as I got to run through a lot of very rural areas of Switzerland that I would have never seen. We also managed to run an errand by purchasing Eurail passes for our upcoming trip to Germany (not all train stations sell Eurail passes and unfortunately, you must buy them in person if you want to use them right away and can’t wait for them to be mailed).

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Scenes from a long run.

We also went there once to check out a Fasnacht winter carnival. I wrote more about it in this post, but it was really interesting to witness something that the entire city shuts down for (even schools are closed so children can attend) and enjoy. I can’t think of anything in Canada, not even Canada Day, that results in this type of attendance.

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Even on a grey, rainy day, people came out for the festival.

Olten
I can’t remember why we went to Olten. Maybe because it was one of the closest cities to visit by train? The city had its usual pretty views, but we struggled to find things to do. Most of the cafes we visited didn’t have wifi which was a problem for Mike who was still working remotely. And – as usual, everything was pricey. At one cafe we went to, 2 cappuccinos and 2 waters set us back 20CHF (~$26CAD).

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Apart from a cupcake and a coffee, we didn’t get much accomplished here. We couldn’t even find one cafe that had wifi for us to use.

Lenzburg
This was a REALLY fun and random city that we ran to as part of a long run. When we were planning that particular long run, our friend Maja drew us an old school map to give us an idea of where to go.

A basic map of our route. It’s really all that we needed since the majority of it was around the lake.

We incorporated a run around Lake Hallwilersee which itself is a 20km loop that included running around a very old castle (which was used for the first time in 1036…!!!).

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Pretty, old castle.

That particular long run also involved running through various types of terrain (and weather; it rained on and off), a forest, and up a very rude hill during the last 2km. As always, we set our meeting point at a cafe in Lenzburg – a very old, historic city that I would have loved to explore but not much is open on Sundays in Switzerland. I seriously love how much history is buried all over Europe. Maja was kind enough to meet us at the cafe and drive us home after a quick post-run cappuccino. When we got back to her place, she made us an amazing Swiss version of French toast for brunch that we still eat on a regular basis today. It was SO GOOD!

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Lenzburg, where we met a friend for a coffee after finishing a very long, challenging and hilly long run.

Bottom line
I absolutely loved exploring and running through Switzerland. I know it’s unrealistic to spend hours running to a different city and commuting back home, so I didn’t allow myself to take any run for granted. Every Sunday was a blank slate to create our own adventure and I am so grateful that my body stayed strong enough to carry me through all of those amazing, scenic long runs.

I say this all the time, but I would go back and live there in a heartbeat.

Europe 2015 Diary Entry VIII – London, England

One year later, I’m finally finding the time to document my memories of our trip. I’m calling them diary entries, because they’re mostly thought dumps to recall as many details as possible – mostly for memory sake. I’m already forgetting little details about our trip, which is sad as it was really a once in a lifetime experience that I want to remember for the rest of my life. So these posts will be long and full of pictures. Consider yourself warned. 🙂

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For years, I was hellbent on living in London. I obsessed and dreamt about this for 8+ years, and I thought my life wouldn’t be complete unless I fulfilled this dream. Over the years, it started to feel more like a thing I would say, than a thing I was actually going to do. So much time had passed that I started to question whether this was something I still wanted. I was convinced that I wouldn’t know unless I tried. Luckily, Mike supported me in taking on this adventure together. Mike and I have each visited London several times in our lives, but this was our first trip to the city together. We went to London with the intention of getting a feel for the city and deciding if we really wanted to try to living there, together. I wasn’t a single person trying to make it in London on my own, it had to be a move that made sense for us both.

I was pretty convinced that we were going to live in London, though. Mike was hesitant, but I thought my only job would be to convince him. I got in touch with recruiters, I asked my friend who had moved there a few years prior a million questions, and Mike and I tried to live as “normally” as we could (run in the mornings, do work at local cafes, hang out with friends, and sample food all over the city for good measure). By the end of the week, we had a pretty good feel for what we loved and didn’t love about London.

I’ll start with the good.

Things I loved about London (not necessarily in order of importance):

Diversity

It’s comforting for me to sit in a subway and hear dozens of different languages. It’s pretty awesome to have access to virtually every cuisine in the world. That’s what I’ve grown up with in Toronto, and as I’ve travelled more, I’ve found it to be very difficult to find that same level of diversity elsewhere. London is great for this. Relative to other cities I’ve been to in Europe, I don’t feel like I stick out as much. My only “complaint” is that the Chinatown in London is pretty lame. 😉

Opportunity

London is one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s not a surprise, then, that they also have a plethora of jobs available to those with visas. I had thought for a few years, that it was nearly impossible to get a job and a visa, but I think as long as you go there without too many expectations of trying to get a job in the same field you’re experienced in, it’s not too bad. In fact, I spoke with a few people while over there and they didn’t seem too concerned about finding me decent sounding jobs that were in my field.

Dogs in pubs, public drinking on the streets

Perhaps not a major point, but I really loved this!!! Not that we have a dog, but if we did, we’d want to take it everywhere with us and you can actually do this in London! Sometimes I’d have to watch myself in pubs because I’d almost trip over dogs resting by their owners. In Canada, you typically have to leave them outside (so they can stare at you with sad eyes) or on the other side of the patio if you’re dining outside.

I personally don’t drink that much, but I also liked seeing the after work crowd casually hanging outside pubs, catching up with friends… and not having to worry about getting fined. In Canada, there are some pretty strict rules against drinking “in public” (outside a licensed area), so usually people have to hide it with paper bags. It always seemed like a silly rule to me. Adults can be responsible.

Cheap food prices, so much variety and Marks & Spencer (the best store ever)

I felt that food was much cheaper in grocery stores and in restaurants, especially compared to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. We basically felt like kings after travelling through those other countries and paying their prices. Fresh juice was something I relied on a lot in London (and Bristol!). While it’s pretty common in Toronto and Vancouver, it’s not a “thing” at all in other countries we visited in Europe. We never had trouble finding juice bars, especially as we were often feeling under the weather in London. Ironically, we never felt sick in Switzerland despite the fact that they didn’t have juice bars, either…

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Our “coffice” for a few days at Ben’s Canteen in Fulham. Great food, coffee, and work spaces.

Oh, and Marks & Spencer is pretty much one of my favourite stores, ever. Part grocery store, part everything else? Their biscuits are amazing.

Unlike our time in Switzerland, we ate all meals out except for breakfast. We were planning to go back to Granichen after London for a while and knew that we wouldn’t be eating out at all once we got there, so we took advantage of exploring the coffee and food scene in London. It was delicious. 🙂 Here are some of the places we went to, and liked:

Brixton

Fulham

  • Ben’s Canteen (Battersea)- great space to do work at, good food/coffee
  • Chairs & Coffee – smaller, but we still did work here. AMAZING sourdough toast with avocado/chili/lime. They also did great eggs and giant portobello mushroom slices. SO GOOD.
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I could eat this every day.
  • Local Hero – okay space. coffee was pretty good (not as good as C&C).
  • Pizza Express (Fulham) – we knew this was chain, but, despite the cheesy name, the pizza was pretty good.

Shoreditch 

  • Merchant’s Tavern – great food. But rich, and filling. We went here after our half-marathon (so with appetites) and still walked out too full for dessert!
  • Strongroom Bar & Kitchen – fun spot for drinks. We did order fajitas off the menue, because it was the night before our half-marathon and wanted something very bland and plain. I wouldn’t recommend the food here, but would definitely go there for drinks.
  • Ace Hotel – Bulldog edition – loved this place. Great atmosphere, so much seating to sit and do work at.

Random movie nights and restaurant street hagglers

One night, Mike and I were wandering around Shoreditch, waiting for our friend Heather to finish work and join us for dinner. The place we chose announced just as she arrived to meet us that they were turning off the lights, pulling out the projector and playing a movie with dinner. It was so cosy and cute. I just loved how random it was. This city is definitely great for keeping you entertained.

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Come for dinner and drinks, stay for a movie (and they’ll even hand out free popcorn!).

Perhaps not something I necessarily “loved” about London, but it was certainly entertaining. We have people standing outside restaurants on certain streets in Toronto as well, but they just don’t have the same personality or entertainment value as they do in London.

Things I didn’t love about London:

Travelling between neighbourhoods

While it may be relatively easy to travel outside of London, travelling WITHIN London is another story. We originally wanted to find accommodation near my friend’s flat in East London, but instead found an adorable room in a small house in Fulham. Mike thought I’d like Fulham, and he was right! It’s a very cute neighbourhood and it was a different part of London I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, it was a hassle to travel away from. Our friend lived not too far away distance wise, but getting to her was surprisingly difficult and time-consuming.

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We stayed in Fulham (bottom dot) and our friend lived in East London (top dot). Distance wise, she was 8.6mi (~14km) from us. Not too far, but it took over an hour to get to her travelling with the subway.

The air quality

This was major for me. I knew right away that the air was harder to breath as soon as we walked off the plane. Maybe it was more noticeable because I had a direct comparison to Switzerland? My skin reacted and broke out within the first few days, I felt wheezy, and whenever I blew my nose, I saw black gunk on the tissue (sorry, TMI). I couldn’t imagine living like this every day…

The chaos

I left Toronto because I was burnt out and overworked. I wanted to slow down and have more work/life balance. I felt like London would have been even more fast-paced than Toronto and that worried me. My 20 year old self would have been excited and up for the challenge. My 30 year old self wanted to take a nap. If I was going to live and work in London, I wanted to have the time to enjoy it and travel around Europe in my spare time. Maybe it’s still possible to have that, but it was definitely something I was concerned about.

The (social) lifestyle

My friend Heather is one of the most social people I know. Simply put: she’s amazing. She’s one of those people who can connect with just about everyone she meets – and it’s not in a fake or insincere way. She’s held me every time I’ve cried in front of her, patiently listened to me, and opened up about her struggles AND triumphs in the many years that we’ve been friends. She’s one of my people.

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My beautiful friend, Heather. I still haven’t forgiven her for moving across the world. Then again, I moved, too…

Because she’s so wonderful, however, she also has a LOT of friends and a VERY active social calendar. London is perfect for her. I’m not so sure that lifestyle would have been perfect for Mike and me. I went out a lot in my 20s. I don’t regret it. I had to get it out of my system, I had a lot of fun, and some of my best memories and most important friendships were formed during those years. But, I wasn’t sure if London was necessarily the place to be if I wanted to slow down my lifestyle.

Housing

And they say housing in Toronto and Vancouver is expensive. At least I’ve always been able to afford living on my own on a single person’s salary. I’m pretty sure Mike and I would have had to make a lot of lifestyle changes, especially in the housing area if we had tried to rent a flat in London. My friend shares a house with 5 other working professionals. And most houses (that I’ve seen) have converted every single room that’s not a bathroom or kitchen into a bedroom. I don’t need a lot of space, but I do love having my own space and one that includes a living area to lounge and relax in.

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I was surprised at how nice the kitchen in our Airbnb was. But the house itself felt isolated and lonely with every room having been converted into bedrooms which meant there were a lot of closed doors and no common area.

So why didn’t we stay?

In terms of culture and the job market, this city has got to be one of the best in the world. And you can’t beat its proximity and accessibility to the rest of Europe (and the world).

Some days I regret not making better use of the work holiday visa that I painstakingly applied for. I feel like I wasted a really great opportunity to live/work in London once I finally had it in front of me. But, I was also travelling with someone who couldn’t actually stay in London with me unless I worked for a company that sponsored him, and what I wanted in my 20s (fast paced lifestyle, climbing the corporate ladder) is not necessarily what I want in my 30s. It was tough to finally admit that and move on from London, but I do believe it was the right choice. Doesn’t mean I don’t love that city though, and will always look for an opportunity to visit.

alison

 

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