Monday, February 28, 2011

Paris!

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to fly to Paris and spend the weekend with one of my longest and dearest friends, Kristen.
Kristen has been living in Paris since 2005. Since this time, she has learnt how to speak French, taken the French BAR EXAM!! and now works in the legal department of Medicins San Frontiers (Doctors without Borders). She is truly amazing. She even spent 6 months with the United Nations in Africa, working with the International Criminal Court and traveled back to Africa with Medicins Sans Frontiers last year to visit a project in Ethiopia. We attended the same law school in Sydney, albeit in different year groups, so it is fun to see what we are doing with our law degrees on the other side of the world!
She was a wonderful hostess, from the time I arrived on Friday evening, to the time I left on Sunday night. Zev had an exercise going on this weekend and was not able to come along, so it ended up being a "girls weekend." I have to thank a fellow "international" student at the University of Tübingen; Anne from Ireland, who grew up in Paris and told me about a great airfare that Air France had from Stuttgart to Paris! It was worth the 50 minute flight, which is about the same time it takes for me to catch a train from Esslingen to Tübingen!
 Kristen was able to show me Paris from a "locals" perspective, which was wonderful because I had only visited Paris twice before for short visits and although I had seen the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame, I wasn´t "in love" with Paris like I am with other cities like Venice. However this time, I was able to see Paris from a different perspective, and I really like the "non-touristy" parts of Paris better!
Kristen´s apartment is on the top floor of this building. It is located across a beautiful park and had a view of Montmarte and the Sacre Coeur!
After seeing Paris from a local´s perspective, I must say that Paris is now on my "list" of favorite European cities!! I definitely want to take Zev back to Paris and show him all the wonderful places I visited and restaurants that we ate in! It is the city of love, after all!
video
Check out this fun video above. We were walking back to Kristen´s apartment when all of a sudden we hear and whoosh of people roller-blading past us on the street! Apparently the city of Paris closes off certain streets once a week and people (including police officers in uniform!) go roller-blading through the city. It looked like so much fun!
We did do some "touristy" stuff, including visiting the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. This is a picture of Room 6 where the Mona Lisa is hung. As you can see, me and 600 of my friends wanted to see this quintessentially "Paris" painting!!
 Here "she" is. Behind what seemed like bullet proof glass and a pretty steady picture, despite the fact that people were elbowing me left, right and center!
I picked up some French phrases and Kristen says that my pronunciation was good. In light of the fact that my dearest friend in Germany is French, I think I might try learning French next! After I am done with writing this thesis for me Masters though!
My grandmother´s name was Lola, so I took a picture of this "love note" on the Metro!
I discovered something incredibly amazing and worthy of my love in Paris......macaroons!!!!!!!! Wow is all I can say. I brought Zev home a box. The fact that they are all for him shows just how much I love this man. He knows to share them with me though :-)))
Yesterday, Kristen´s friend, Nina, invited us to her apartment for lunch. We went to the local outdoor markets in the morning and picked up all the fresh ingredients! I love outdoor markets! Germany has some awesome ones (not as much cheese at German ones) but still awesome. I love that you can buy veggies, flowers, cheese, wine and even bread and sweets at these markets. I practiced some of my (very basic!) French too!
Nina and Kristen put together an awesome lunch, consisting of this melt-in-your-mouth chevre cheese on toast on a bed of salad, drizzled with honey; followed by two sorts of lasagna (one vegetarian) and completed with a lemon meringue. I could hardly keep my eyes open on the flight home, I was so full (and content!)
It is no small feat that they were able to produce such awesome meals from such a tiny kitchen!
Nina´s dog, Picasso, was adorable. Like a minature version of an American bulldog. Smaller and cuter. A French Bulldog. But of course!
I caught my flight back home to Stuttgart at 7pm and as the plane was circling around Paris, I looked out my window and caught an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower, all lit up and sparkly. It seemed like the perfect way to farewell the city of love. I can´t wait to bring Zev back here.
Hope you have a lovely week!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

B is for Beautiful Brugges

Well we had heard that Brugges is a beautiful little, medieval Belgian town. We were not disappointed. We found a sweet Bed and Breakfast to stay in, only 2 km from the Old Town of Brugges. We left Amsterdam this morning and arrived in Brugges about 2 1/2 hours later.
Everyone here seems super friendly and we had fun tasting some incredible dark Belgian beer and just exploring the old town.
Brugges reminds me of a blend between Venice and Colmar, France (due to the canals) and Prague (because of the cobblestoned streets and underground pubs and cellars).
We caught the local bus into downtown Brugges and just walked around this beautiful town. We started off buying some Belgian chocolates from one of the countless chocolate stores.
We explored fun little alleyways...
Peered into some cute lace stores...
 And just enjoyed the sights and sounds of Brugges.
We had carrot soup at one cafe and then we stopped for some traditional Belgian chips (french fries) with MAYONNAISE (yes, mayonnaise!) outside the cathedral and just watched the world go by. (You can see Zev ordering thge chips if you look closely; he is the second guy from the left.)
There are so many quaint little towns in Europe. This has been a lovely little weekend away. Tomorrow we will hopefully be able to stop by the Ardennes American Military Cemtery in Belgium on our way home to Germany. We hope that you have a lovely President's Day if you are in the US and a lovely start to your week if you are in Australia or elsewhere!
Love and hugs, Zev and Fi xo

Around Amsterdam and Anne Frank's House

Yesterday we explored Old Amsterdam and tried some local specialities including "Bitterballen" in a local pub, which was basically fried meat and potato balls that were VERY hot! The beer was good though. Not as thick and dark as German beer, but still quite tasty.
The weather was crisp and grey but at least the rain held off. We also toured a traditional canal house boat and were surprised by how big the living areas were inside.
I am really glad that we chose to stay in a "local" place rather than a hotel, because I feel that we got a true sense of what it is like to "live" in Amsterdam rather than be surrounded by the "touristy" Amsterdam. This is a picture of the apartment that we stayed in and below you can see the steep stair case leading upstairs!
All the houses are very narrow and tall as land is at a real premium here! We learnt on our canal house boat tour that some canal boats cost as much as a house, and they need to be refurbished every 4 to 5 years!
This morning we got up early and headed down the street to Anne Frank's House. We tried to visit the museum yesterday but the line was so long that we decided to get an early start this morning and head over there. We are both so glad that we went. What an incredible story, and incredible museum. To actually walk through the factory that Anne's father used to manage and then walk through the "hidden annex" where the family hid for 2 years is just incredible. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but it was really amazing to walk through her old bedroom and see picutres of movie stars that she had posted on the wall.
What was even more amazing in my opinion, is the strength, innocence and intelligence that Anne displayed through her words in her diary. She was a very intelligent little girl and had a gift for capturing the sights, sounds and experiences of her life on paper. Zev and I stopped in a little coffee shop next door for a coffee and bagels and we both felt rather overwhelmed and touched by our experience at the Anne Frank House. Although on the one hand it seems so incredible and outrageous to imagine how so many people could be systematically exterminated and tortured, it is not that far-fetched to see how a culture can develop an attitude of hatred and feart against another culture. The Jews were segretated, humiliated and eventually tortured and exterminated. Although it may be easy to think "that was then and this is now," one really only needs to look at world politics and events to see that mass killings still occur to this day around the world and that there is fear and contempt for other cultures in every day society. Below is a picture of Anne Frank's father, Otto. He was the only member of the family that survived the concentration camps. When he returned to Amsterdam and found Anne Frank's diary, which had been preserved by one of the Dutch workers at the factory, he worked to keep the house they were hidden in and have it turned into a memorial, as well as to spread the message of peace and tolerance for all of humanity.
At the end of the Anne Frank tour, there was a video showing a school teacher in France talking about the ban on wearing burkas in public schools. This is a controversial issue in Europe, but it made me reflect on my own attitudes towards other cultures. There is no denying the resentment today that a lot of people have against Muslims, illegal immigrants...the list goes on. Even though the Holocaust seems like such a long time ago, it really only happened less than 70 years ago. There are people still living today who experienced first hand the horrors of that time. We never want for those horrors to be repeated and yet I know that discrimination against other races, religions and cultures still lives on today. Anne Frank wrote about how she could not comprehend how her family and other Jews were so hated and vilified. They were made to wear identifying badges and made to live in the "Jewish Quarter." They had their cars and bicycles taken from them and then rounded up in the street and led off to concentration camps. She felt like an outcast and indeed was one. Zev remarked how amazing it is that such a little girl could have such a big impact on the world. Anne Frank became the face of the Holocaust but is still a representative today of the effects of oppression and hatred against our fellow man. I learnt or rather re-learnt some important yet basic lessons after visiting the Anne Frank House. The simplest lesson perhaps being that we are truly all equal and that we are called to tolerate one another and show respect, even if we don't agree with each other's opinions or religions or culture.

Amsterdam left an indelible mark on me. It is a curious and intriguing city. There are some beautiful parts, especially in the neighborhood we stayed in with the gorgeous old apartment buildings and canals and bicycles, and there are some not so beautiful parts, like any city I guess. We are off to Brugges in Belgium this afternoon. I hope that you have a lovely and warm Sunday!
Much love, Fi xo

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A is for Amsterdam

Today we are in Amsterdam and what a fun, happy city this is.
We are staying in the Jordaan neighborhood, which is a lovely, quiet neighborhood with cute little cafes and restaurants. Zev had the awesome idea to look for a self-contained apartment on a "Vacation Rentals By Owner."
Zev has a long weekend because of President's Day, and since I am working on my thesis and not attending classes every day, we thought we would drive the roughly 6 six from Germany to explore northern Europe a little. We arrived last night and I already love the city.
I do not mean to offend my dear German friends here, but people in Amsterdam seem a lot happier than in Germany. And no, I don't think it is because they are taking illegal substances. Well, maybe for some of them, but I have noticed on the train and just walking around our neighborhood that everyone smiles. And speaks great English. And loves to buy flowers. And ride around on these awesome old fashioned looking bicylces.
 This morning we went to the local markets and bought this delicious farmer's cheese with cumin.
We had fun looking at tospy turvy houses and painted bicycles...
Amsterdam is on my list of favorite cities in Europe. (My all time favorite is Venice; Zev's is Barcelona.)
We are now heading out to visit Anne Franks House. I love having wireless in our room!
Love from us xoxo



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cooking Explosion!

I should probably title this "Explosion of Cooking" so people don´t think I had an explosion in the kitchen! A lot of you will already know that I am not known for my cooking repertoire. I will blame this on my mum, grandma and aunties ;-)). They are all an excellent cooks and I grew up being spoilt by their wonderful meals. It is only now that I can admit that after I graduated from the Defence Academy and had my first "single girl´s apartment" in Sydney, I decided to host a dinner party at my place that was "catered" by my Aunties, especially Auntie Fabi! Zev came to this dinner party and loves to remind me of how I broke the oven door (the glass part) when I tried to shove the (already cooked) turkey in to warm it up. When Zev and I got engaged, my sweet grandmother innocently asked (in Spanish, of course!) "But Fiona, how are you going to cook for your new husband when you can´t even boil water!?" I am truly blessed to be married to an excellent cook. For the first few years of our marriage, Zev did the main cooking in the family. I dabbled here and there making (or inventing) things like my infamous "Saurkraut Surprise" which I made in the first year of being married. Basically, imagine pre-cooked saurkraut with beetroots and sausages mixed in. I think I was going for the "sweet and sour" taste. Zev ate that pink saurkraut creation and deserves a medal for being a trooper. He is an excellent cooking instructor and taught me some invaluable cooking skills including how to use the right tools for the job at hand and so forth. He is still the "gourmet" cook in our family (if the cooking magazines on his night stand are any indication: "Bon Appetit" and until last year "Gourmet"). In the past couple of years, I have been dabbling in making easy meals that involve the crock pot or a stir fry of some sort. But in the last year or so, I have started to venture out and experiment with different recipes and flavors. You will be happy to know (Zev is really happy to know) that after almost 7 years of marriage, I now can say that I LOVE TO COOK! Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a Cooking Explosion!!   
I think a real key to cooking well consistently is being organized, not only with staples and ingredients but also with recipes, so you know what to stock up on at the beginning of each week. I started to create my little "Fiona´s Favorite Recipes" folder a year ago and thanks to Cooking Light magazine and Jessica Seinfeld´s Do It Delicious recipes, I have made some "winners" that will go on the "keepers" list in our house and therefore be on the "regular" list. I wanted to share a dish that turned out so well last night, I really shocked myself. Zev went back for seconds if that is any indication. (Maybe I should "rate" my recipes based on whether Zev goes back for seconds or asks for the left-overs in his lunch box?)
Last night I made Beef Tagine with Couscous. The recipe is from this past month´s Cooking Light magazine. If you would like it, call or email me and I will forward it to you ;-) I would like to recommend Jessica Seinfeld´s website called "Do It Delicious." You can google the website. Under "Recipes" you will find SUPER EASY recipes WITH VIDEO instruction for those like me who like simple but healthy and yummy meals that are satisfying but do not take too long to make. Favorites at our house from this website include Freaky Greek Pasta, Rosemary Chicken "Al Mattone," Sweet Cherry Tomato Pasta (you make the "sauce" from cooking the olive oil with basil and sweet cheery tomatoes and then mix it all together with the cooked pasta and fresh ricotta cheese....soooooo good!), Slow Cooker Lasagna and Herb Roasted Beef with Potatoes and Carrots. Great for new wives who are learning the ropes on how to cook. I know this is a random post, but I have to say that I never realized how much fun cooking can be.
So on that note, I better go catch my bus to uni. Guten Appetit!