A Recent Collection Of Things

Three months whizzes by pretty quick huh. Moving house, work deadlines, and long hours on the road.. it’s not a recipe for a good blog. But let’s get this train moving again, because it is a bit fun. I actually have a whole collection of items in my drafts pile, mostly waiting for the addition of edited photos (bain of my life) or final tweaks. But I thought I’d start with something fresh this morning, and maybe the start of a new series. A Recent Collection Of Things!

Travel. I was halfway through sharing my Malta trip with you last time we spoke. I still have some bits to share about that, which I hope should be coming soon. In the interim, we have also enjoyed a roadtrip around Devon and Cornwall, a weekend break in Norfolk and a venture to beautiful Iceland (see featured image!). I’m currently oogling at some delicious winter breaks (Lake Bled, come at me) – anyone else got plans? In a few weeks I get my first international work trip to Madrid, so I’m hoping for some time to explore then. This weekend we’re off for a short trip to Belfast, which is always good.

Kirkjufellfoss ✨ (more waterfalls #sorrynotsorry ) ❄️

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Films & TV. Earlier this week we went to a viewing of Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie at The Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford. It was part of a number of showings around the country, and was followed by a live broadcast Q&A with Louis from Southbank London for London Literature Festival. As other documentaries have ‘been there, done that’ as far as the full history, life and times of Scientology goes, this one took a different angle. Using re-enactments of reported events within the Scientology inner-circle, insight from former high-ranking members, and a good dose of quirky, tasteful humour along the way, this movie perhaps lacks some depth, but is overall a very enjoyable and interesting watch. The atmosphere and anticipation in the cinema for an event like this is really special. ♦ Having read The Girl On The Train, I was keen to see this once it hit cinemas, and despite some unflattering reviews, I found it a good watch, once you get over the disappointment of the setting and cultural move to New York from England. I do feel with stories such as this one, and Gone Girl, that so much weight of the story is held in it’s plot twists, that once these have been revealed to you once, the story loses some of it’s intrigue and magic. Unfortunately I’d finished the book very recently, so it was all very fresh in my mind. ♦ I finally got around to watching Brooklyn. Like the book, this was captivating and really enjoyable. It’s on Netflix! ♦ While my father-in-law was over, we got a copy of Lincoln. This is a bit of a long film, but I really appreciate this kind of history lesson, as it’s the only kind I can keep an interest in! I will say the same for ITV’s Victoria, which I have been really engrossed in. ♦ So glad to see The Fall back on our screens, which we love for more than the fact that it’s based in our old home Belfast. ♦ Sally Phillip’s documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome on BBC was a hard and at times incredulous watch. I found myself getting emotional, which from a cold-hearted ice queen like me is rare. ♦ The Great British Bake Off. I can’t talk about it right now though as my favourite left last night. ♦ Oh and finally TravelMan, because, travel and Richard Ayoade.

 

Podcasts. Last month I reached a PB of 1,400 business miles, and this week I’ve totted up 600 already. That makes for some good podcastin’ *gangsta finger snap*. Having exhausted my usual favourites early on (Dear Sugar, Millennial, and the occasional of-interest Death, Sex and Money), I have been getting back into Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review (their most recent with Emily Blunt was a goodun) and Timothy Keller (New York Pastor with wise thoughts and a good technique of verbalising them). I’ve even delved into the classic Desert Island Discs (strongly recommended episodes: Tom Hanks and Nadiya Hussain). Finally, my latest find is The Adam Buxton Podcast. This guy kept popping up (doing the interview on the Q&A section of My Scientology Movie, and on TravelMan), so I thought it worth giving a go. I recommend any episode with Louis Theroux – just great.

Food. We made jam! It was fun and actually pretty easy. We also tried making ice-cream (more laborious, less successful). I tried making some raspberry cupcakes with rapeseed oil. They tasted of rapeseed oil. I tried out some Rostis with my last curry. Surprisingly easy and successful for a first try, and minimal ingredients required. I snapped up some tins of pumpkin while I treated myself to a visit to Waitrose, and made pumpkin pie (I. Love. It.) for an annual “thanksgiving” dinner I do with a friend (yes it’s a month early, but we’re British and we can make our own rules #thuglife).

What even is Autumn without pumpkin pie 🍂 luckily my comrade @lauramomomo understands

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Books. I have been doing quite poorly recently. I finished The Girl on The Train as already discussed. I have been battling through a Will Self book (Liver) – yes he is clever and all, but just no. Not for me. I didn’t even finish the last short story – total book crime. I’m now getting my teeth into Behind the Scenes at the Museum (not Night at the Museum as I almost wrote…) by Kate Atkinson and enjoying it. I also finally finished The Five Love Languages. I wish the cover was less cringey, but I do think it’s a really helpful way to look at the world.

Youtube (that can be a category right). I’ve been doing some tedious excel work which made watching Youtube simultaneously possible (that sounds like an excuse but IT’S TRUE). I’ve been enjoying The Gathered Nest (a beautiful family with the best newest addition), and have been really getting sucked into all this living simply, capsule wardrobe, minimalism stuff with various tubers (The Anna Edit, Sarah Nourse, Meghan Livingstone, muchelleb). I actually started the whole capsule wardrobe thing! I’m so on trend! And it’s genuinely great! Do it! Or I will keep writing with exclamation marks! !! ! !!!! !

Craft. I’m in the middle of making an autumnal banner, which is going to be divine I JUST KNOW IT. I’m also getting back into crochet and enjoying the simple repetition of granny squaring whenever I get a sit-down with the TV. I’m trying to finish my scrapbook of all our travels this year (turning slightly into a chore…). I’m also hoping to attempt some curtains, once I find a fabric we can agree on.

#Knitting inspo at @libertylondon 🇬🇧 #touristday with @nadine_jellybean

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Hope life’s been good for you all!

Visiting Malta: Mdina

The first full day of our trip we took one of those tour buses – the hop-on hop-off types (am I the only one who has this tune reverberate around my head whenever I hear those words?). Anyway you know the ones: heavily advertised, overpriced, tinny audio and liable to being an hour late and leaving you stranded in a ‘craft village’ which you had to persuade your husband to visit in the first place. Not a perfect solution to getting round the island, but at least somewhat faster and easier than the local buses. So this bus passed through Mdina and we hopped off (hopping is mandatory on these buses you know) and found a place for lunch. Had a quick poke around the town and then hopped back on again. The place didn’t seem particularly exciting and we wondered what all the fuss was about. Luckily I figured out before the end of our trip that we had completely bypassed the interesting bit – the old city.

On our last day we found time to return, this time via a local bus (took the best part of an hour each way, but can’t complain about the minuscule cost!). This time we headed right through the old city gate (it’s pretty big and obvious, so you’re probably wondering how we missed it). I hear this is Game of Thrones filming territory, but that, like the many GoT memes that flood my news-stream, means nothing to me (please, I’m only just getting into Gilmore Girls, I’m a decade behind on popular TV).

Old city Mdina is beautiful, full of winding, sandy coloured alleyways and interesting shops, with several selling the authentic Mdina glass (which isn’t unaffordable!). Being on a hill, you also get a great view whenever the opportunity arises to catch a glance over the walls. There are a good number of restaurants and cafes, and a few tourist spots like a cathedral and associated museum (interesting-ish, but not as impressive as the St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta), and a display on ‘the Knights of Malta’ (having read reviews, we skipped this for the more purse-friendly ‘Knights Hospitallers’ in Valletta which was fascinating and enjoyable even for my history-repellent self). However, the fact is that the city is a tourist attraction in itself. Take a camera and some good walking shoes and enjoy it!

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A Trip To Malta

(Way back in Spring we had our last overseas adventure. I’ve been delaying blogging on it because I’m struggling to find decent software to edit my photos. Any suggestions?)

Recently I’ve been torn between taking more regular, cheaper, more local European trips, and saving up for something a bit more exotic (Asia has been giving me the eyes for quite some time…). The former has certainly been the theme of the past year. While there are a lot of cheap, sunny, honeypot tourist destinations that don’t excite my attention, there are a few golden nuggets too. Croatia and Malta were two gems we narrowed it down to for a Spring getaway, and the latter became was our latest travel pick. Initially looking for a package hol, we then found we could get a better deal doing it ourselves, and eventually got flights and a week’s accommodation within our £500 budget (bearing in mind, this was for the beginning of March, but still, not bad – considering the 5 night Cornwall trip we just returned from was only £100 less!).

Malta is right out in the Mediterranean, between Italy and North Africa. It is made up of three smaller islands, the largest being Malta, to the NW of which is Gozo (about half the size), and between the two is the very small Comino. If you arrived there blindfolded, you could be awarded a good guess for thinking you were in Greece or Italy, as it shares the same arid, warm climate and relaxed atmosphere. However, after a few days on the island, Malta’s individual personality and culture start to show through. The colourful boats of Marsaxlokk, and the balconies of Valletta are some of Malta’s trademark, unique views.

We stayed in Sliema for the week, which although is not a particularly interesting town in itself, I still consider it a good central location, with easy access to the capital of Valletta (and a great view of it – which you wouldn’t get if you were staying in the city itself!). Between a coach tour, local buses, and a few days with a hire car, we got around pretty much the whole island. A week is about the right amount of time for this, although it should be mentioned that more activities would have been available to spend our time on if we had gone mid-summer. In Spring, most of the boat trips, canoeing, and snorkeling are a no-go.

A few quick tips on travelling to Malta:

Malta reaches temperatures of 27°C in the height of Summer, although when we visited in early March, the weather was variable – we had some beautiful warm “shorts days”, but these were contrasted with colder days with a barrage of chilly coastal wind. If you’re travelling off-season it’s good to be prepared and bring plenty of layers – as well as some sunglasses!

Don’t be tempted by cheaper hotels in Gozo. This smaller island neighboring Malta is beautiful, but we had our fill of it in a day. There are very regular ferries between the islands, but these do take time and cost, and you’re much better off visiting Gozo for a single day trip, rather than visiting Malta for multiple ones. This not only comes from our experience, but that of several friends who went the Gozo way!

Local buses aren’t bad – but it’s not a quick way to travel. If you’re keen to see the whole island, renting a car is a great option. We had some reservations about driving in a foreign country on the wrong side of the road – but the benefits far outweighed these. We really enjoyed getting lost off the beaten track – ending up on some very narrow clifftop pathways, and encountering more than one “private no entry” at the end of a long dead end. But it was hugely fun and gave us a lot of freedom. I’d be very tempted to do the same on future travels elsewhere.

Don’t worry about language. Literally everyone speaks English, and don’t seem to have any grudges against doing so for you (unlike the vibes I get in some other countries).

Bring your own toiletries! I guess it comes from importation costs of island living, but certain items are not cheap. A shampoo and conditioner set me back €10!

This is the first of a series of posts on Malta. Stay tuned for more details on our favourite Maltese spots!

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The Best Brunch in Belfast

Did I ever tell you I lived in Belfast for two years? And I visited it every-other-month for another four years? Yes we’re pretty well acquainted. No, it’s not because I have an unhealthy obsession with Tayto crisps. The ol’ husb is Northern Irish and he only moved to England a year ago.

Anyway, the connection still runs deep, and the Land of Potatoes is still home to many family and friends, so we visit often. Although there is still a lot of Northern and (especially) Southern Ireland that I am yet to (and want to) explore, most of our long weekends in that direction are crammed with social gatherings and catch ups, of course. However, beyond the people, there are a few other things we both miss. Namely our favourite food spots (duh). For a big lunch, Boojum’s burritos. For a special dinner, Made in Belfast. For a fancy pizza, Little Wing. For a coffee and cake, Cinnamon cafe. And for a perfect brunch… French Village.

The latter is the one we always make time for. Brunch Club© the best way to start the day. By the way, the Club© bit just means doing it with friends. It works for all scenarios – Lunch Club©, Coffee Club©, Pudding Club©, Picnic Club©. This all arose from when I lived in student digs with 6 other girls. We were rarely in the house or having mealtimes at the same times, so whenever we did it came with an excited “BREAKFAST CLUB©!!” announcement. So there you go you heard it here first.

So anyway this post was meant to be about French Village. It’s a cafe, by the way, not an actual village. And it’s not just another ‘ooh pretty Parisian decor let’s all be pink and lovely’ cafe. French is after the name of the original owner. The decor is actually successfully cool, quirky, and robust. Think thick wooden tables, mixed pattern tiles, and exposed hanging light bulbs.

I should talk about the food. It’s great. You can have varieties on English breakfast (made culturally appropriate with potato bread). This is delicious. You can have scrambled eggs on wheaten bread. This is delicious. You can have a stack of pancakes. This is delicious. You can have cream cheese and bacon on a bagel. THIS. IS. DELICIOUS. (do I sound like Neil Buchanan yet?)

Let’s not forget the drinks. A choice of smoothies. Served in jam jars OBVIOUSLY (although this slightly grates on me, because, guys, this is not edgy and unusual anymore).

Of course, brunch is not all they cater for. They also do a lovely variety of cakes and savoury food. But srsly guys it’s all about Brunch.


 

Life as a 20-Something in 2016

In my last post I listed a few podcasts I’ve been into lately. Well, I found a new one, Millennial. I just listened to one of their episodes and found myself relating, not to the total synopsis, but to the feelings threaded through it. Doubt. Fear. Confusion. The choice between the pragmatic and the creative.

Last night I had to sit down for a couple of hours and have a total brain detox. Sometimes the overwhelming and demanding aspects of 21st century life as a millennial can be a gradual, creeping monster. I don’t think I need to explain this any deeper – we all know it already.
On one end of the spectrum is the fear of not having our life together – the absence of a partner, children, house, career. On the other is the financial and mental stress it brings when we do. The housing market is every first buyers nightmare, the cost of a “standard” wedding is staggering, and the idea of a strictly 9 to 5 job almost laughable. And let’s not get into the wormhole of considering how you could practically afford the time or money to start a family any time in the next 15 years, manage a holiday beyond Ryanair’s European reach, or maintain a hobby that doesn’t directly benefit your CV.

Each to us is our own unique situation and anxiety, but doubtless we can all see ourselves somewhere in that mix. For us right now, we have cleared the hurdle of marriage, precariously clung to employment (in my case), and face our next financial rite of passage, buying a home. A jolly project that’s easier said than done when living in one of the most expensive areas of the UK, even with help from the gracious bank of mum and dad.
No wonder the trend of travelling to get away from these problems – what will happen when our peers happily bungee jumping and elephant riding their way through Asia come home to nest with a bank account as blank as their CV I can’t imagine. Perhaps that’s unnecessary criticism (tinged with envy). Maybe they have the right idea, clocking out of the rat race and society’s traditional way of life – one that is increasingly strained.

Like I said, I cleared my head last night. For me, that meant praying and re-reading some encouraging verses friends have given me over the few years. Writing out my prayers is my best method when my head is too foggy to string verbal sentences together.
(As a millennial, I guess using a meditation iPhone app, with a colouring book and juiced smoothie in hand would have been more appropriate).

I said a little while back that I wasn’t keen on diarised entries and personal reflection. But listening to this podcast reminded me the value in sharing our own stories. There’s enough generic advice out there. It also encouraged me to persevere with this blog. We can still pursue interests beyond our workplace, we just have to be willing to make the time.

I hope to keep sharing authentic experiences, and snippets of ideas worth thinking on, amidst my usual content.

So tell me readers – how is millennial life treating you?

On the Road Again – How to Optimise your Business Travel

So quick life update: God provided a new job the very day I was due to be made redundant. I didn’t even have to interview for it, and they matched my current package. Awesome.

Much like my old job, my new one means regular business travel. Not to the same extent as some people – I have a friend who recently landed a work trip to the Caribbean hashtagJEALOUS – but I am often on the road within the UK, usually solo, and often with overnights too. It’s not always convenient or agreeable due to the way it can interfere with my personal life, but the travelling in itself doesn’t always have to be a chore. Here’s five ways how you can optimise your life on the road!

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Optimise your location
Being away from home for work can often mean long office days and early starts, so it may not always be practical or a priority to go sight-seeing! But are there small ways you can enjoy a night in a new city? One evening in exotic Birmingham, when I was in the market for a wedding ring, I took to my feet and walked around some of the independent boutiques in the Jewellery Quarter for some window shopping. No big adventure, but I got a feel for the city and a better understanding of it. For me, walking the streets is the best way to get my bearings in a city (and remember them when I return!).

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Optimise your breaks
While I prefer the train, practically I have to use the car for 90% of my travel. Usually I like to beast out my journeys and try to avoid stopping, and often I don’t have time to! However when the journey goes beyond 3 hours, I do find a quick coffee break can be necessary to keep up my concentration and energy. Services are rarely packed, and most have decent coffee shops now, so a cappuccino and a comfy seat are easy to find. In these cases, I try to be sure to pack a book in my bag. It’s a small pleasure, 15 minutes of quiet reading with a hot beverage, but I’m sure it’s one most of us rarely make time for, so it can be a great excuse. I have even been known to buy a book at the overpriced services bookstore in times of great need!

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Optimise your dead travel time When you’re stuck in the car for hours, any CD can get old real quick, and radio adverts soon begin to grate. Podcasts are the way forwards! ‘Revolutionised’ is a big word, but these have definitely changed my long commutes for the better. I use the podcast app on my phone, and either search for a particular topic I’m interested in that day (say, a country I’m planning to travel to, or a person I’d like to know more about), or else revert to some old favourites. Top suggestions from me are ‘Dear Sugar Radio’ (the thinkers agony aunt, with Cheryl Strayed, author of ace book Wild), ‘Death, Sex and Money’ (relevant issues and insightful interviews), and TED Talks (of course). Audio books are also something I’d like to try.

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Optimise your means of travel
Keeping your automobile in good order is always a good idea, but even more so if you rely on it for work. Rubbish can soon mount up as you eat and drink on the go, so a dedicated rubbish bag is always useful (check out Pinterest ones for some neat ones to make). I also try to keep some essentials at the ready – a road map, phone chargers, breakdown cover details, perfume, umbrella, pens, and sunglasses. Emergency provisions are also good to have such as a thick jacket, torch, food etc, especially in winter time. Stating the obvious, but ensure you have your regular car check ups and look into any error lights! Delaying my annual service once found me at a Services halfway to Liverpool, googling how to refill my oil. Having basic car skills like that though are also a huge help. Women – we don’t need to rely on the men to do these things for us!!

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Optimise your hotel
I say this as an employee of a company that has a budget of £60 for a hotel room. That’s not a lot! You may not be at the Hilton, but you still get a free dinner and maybe a quiet night in. There’s no need to mope about lonely in your hotel room, when there’s facepacks, pedicures, or moisturising to be done! This is key body maintenance time, people.
Oh and get up early for breakfast. Seriously, you will never get that buffet at home.

How to Travel for your Dissertation

The Diss. The D Word. The bane of your life. Whatever your pet name of choice, if you are a university student, odds are that for the majority of you a dissertation will be an inevitable hurdle you’ll have to cross to make it to graduation. They are do-able, they are survivable, but they can also be all-encompassing and a rollercoaster of emotions. Trust me – I’ve done two. And I’ve realised that as well as all this, they can also be an opportunity to travel, meet new people, and have amazing life experiences.

For my first dissertation for my Bachelor’s, I researched the benefits of urban green space. I did get to read some interesting papers (yes, that’s not an oxymoron, it is possible), but I also had to personally carry out 100 door-to-door surveys. Sigh. I knocked on 100+ doors in the wind, rain and snow, and snivelled on about being a university student doing a project, and please could they tell me if walking in the park makes them feel happy. As an introvert, I genuinely think of this as a traumatic phase in my life history.

When I made the decision to do a Master’s (and therefore another dissertation), I knew I had to tackle this a little differently. Combined with this, I was aware that my life of long summer holidays was coming to a close, and a future of Responsibilities, Bills and Annual Leave Quota were looming. Having never done a gap year, my feet were itching, and I was looking for a solution.

Operation Wallacea was something I had been vaguely aware of since they had visited my first university. I had initially dismissed it as almost too good to be true, but now I spent some more time looking into it. I read up, spoke with my course advisors, and found myself booking return tickets to Madagascar.

As a result, I spent six weeks having some of the most memorable times of my life, living in a tent in the middle of the Spiny Forest in the region of Ifotaka, with no internet, phone signal or running water. Although I knew none of my fellow travellers before I left, I made some incredible friends among the 10 other dissertation students, 30 research assistants, and the Malagasy students, translators and camp helpers who also joined us. While we weren’t absent from our laptops, we exchanged dingy uni libraries for a wooden hut and a generator, with a view to a dried riverbed and a family of ring-tailed lemurs. We worked alongside Gerald, a baby tortoise found in the site, and spent our lunch breaks napping in the sun on the sandy shore.

While I did find myself carrying out more household surveys, these were via my translator, Herman, with families I was fascinated to know about, who lived in wooden huts alongside their goats, and still found white people a novelty. Instead of driving around suburbia to find them, we spent hours trekking through the wilderness, through rivers and across amazing countryside, encountering snakes, chameleons, scorpions and baobab trees along the way. We interviewed the local mayor, the informal rural bank, the ‘forest police’, local business people, and representatives from WWF and the World Food Programme.

When we weren’t working, we joined the ecology teams on their night hikes to spot mouse lemurs, got up close with the hognose snake caught by the reptile team, visited a market to buy goats as offerings to the villages we visited, listened to stories from the local elders, were guests to the Independence Day parties, and partied it up ourselves at the camp site too. Every evening we would spend lying on the sand, watching the stars – which, in the middle of a wilderness void of light pollution, is like seeing the sky in high definition. We saw countless shooting stars every night.

Not everything was easy. No running water meant cold bucket showers, holes in the ground for toilets, and no privacy except a sheet of tarpaulin. Beds, comfy chairs, wifi and most food became a distant memory. We lived off rice, beans and unappetising zebu or goat meat, with the rare offer of a soggy bread role or small banana an occasion worth celebrating. The rice was littered with gravel, and made with chlorinated water, which was all we had to drink too. Coffee was available, but the only milk was condensed, covered with flies. Breakfast was cheap mushy noodles, or sickeningly greasy doughnut balls. On multiple times we witnessed the goats being slaughtered for our dinner, but were still obliged to eat it, still attached to the hairy skin, when visiting villages. We missed our families and friends, and got just occasional signal on phones to contact them. I got badly sick twice, projectile vomiting into cactus bushes, and also suffered from infected mosquito bites, with one so bad on my foot I was confined to camp for a week and given anti-biotics.

We got to do once-in-a-lifetime things. We bathed in rivers. I showered in the open air in a thunderstorm. We got caught in the middle of a locust swarm. We rode along bumpy tracks on the back of a pick up truck and tried food from street sellers. We learnt basic Malagasy, and made up for the rest with bad hand signals and even worse French.

Of course, it costs money. If you’re planning to raise funds, consider the time it will take to do so, but also be aware that the organisation was very flexible for me – I joined past the deadline. You can do the research the summer of your dissertation (for cases like mine with 12 month Masters courses), or the summer before. You can also join as a research assistant. Remember to speak to your lecturers or other relevant contacts from uni before signing up – I found this helpful to ensure I was booking onto an expedition that would be relevant and suitable. If Operation Wallacea doesn’t offer the right kind of projects for your subject, you could try other organisations – such as Projects Abroad or Frontier.

It’s not an easy solution, and it’s not cheap – although you do receive support to raise funds for it yourself. It requires planning ahead (I organised this long before my university started prompting us). It requires hard work – with just a month to write up 15,000+ words once returning home, in my case. And yes, it requires some independence and sense of adventure.

But all I really mean to say is that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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The Ultimate Marmalade Making Guide

Good news for Paddington Bear! This time of year isn’t the season for much (beyond diets, dreary days and being overdrawn), but there is one thing it IS the time for: Marmalade. Seville oranges are ripe for the buying, and all you need is a couple of hours to concoct a year’s worth of the amber jam. Packaged right, this stuff with last for years – how about making some for next year’s Christmas hampers?!

What you need:

  • 2kg Seville oranges (unwaxed)
  • 2 lemons (unwaxed)
  • 2kg sugar (jam sugar or regular is fine) – more if you prefer your marmalade on the sweet side
  • Jam jars
  • Waxed jam liner discs

 

Method

After a quick wash, slice all the oranges and lemons in half, and plonk them in a big saucepan (ideally a pressure cooker), giving them a quick squeeze on the way in.

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Pop the lid on and leave to simmer for a couple of hours. When you come back, they should be nice and soft and squidgey. When this is ready, preheat the oven to 150°C for later.

Take each fruit half out one by one, and scrape out the innards, pips and all, using a fork and spoon.

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Put the skins to one side, and push the rest through a sieve (or one of these special contraptions shown, a food mill), back into the saucepan/pressure cooker. Pop this back on the hob on a low heat.

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Stick the sugar in it’s packaging in the preheated oven, alongside the jam jars in order to sterilise them. If the jars have rubber components (for the rim of the top), heat these in water in a saucepan to sterilise.

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Chop up the skins (a multi-bladed pair of scissors as shown will minimise faff). Snip to your preferred size. Set to one side.

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Once the saucepan is bubbling, add all the sugar and mix in.

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Keep stirring until it has set – a good test is when the mixture will hang off the spoon(/spatula) instead of dripping straight off.

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Add the rinds to the saucepan. Don’t do this earlier, or they’ll end up hard and crunchy. Mix well.

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Once the jam jars are quite hot, take them out (with oven gloves!) and ladel/pour the mixture straight in. Lay a liner on top, then seal well.

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Add a label with a date and ‘HOME MADE BY XXX’ in large letters. You did all the work so you need to get the glory!

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And all done in one afternoon – try it this weekend and teach yourself a skill for life! Thanks to Papa Oysterville, the Marmalade Master, for this project.

Vienna Day 4: Spanish Riding School, Demel’s, and the locals’ favourite Christmas Markets

On our final day, we enjoyed a breakfast of yoghurt and pastries, before collecting our pre-booked tickets for the Spanish Riding School performance. Anyone remotely in the equine world will know of this place – famous for it’s incredibly well trained horses and riders. Tickets must be booked well in advance, and good advice on picking your seating can be found on TripAdvisor. We booked upper tier seats, which had a relatively good view – if you stood up. Much like the history museum, this will appeal to some and not others – but I very much enjoyed it, and I think my non-horsey husband had a good enough time too! Unfortunately photo taking whilst the display is on is not allowed, otherwise you would be inundated with them on this post!

After this, we crossed the street to the swanky Demel’s café for a taste of the famous Sachertorte (chocolate cake). After having heard disappointed reviews, I was pleasantly surprised myself how tasty (and not dry!) the cake was. That afternoon we made some final Christmas market visits, to a couple of places recommended to us by a friendly local. Spittelberg and Karlsplatz markets require some travel on the tubes, but were full of good quality and unique finds, including some really well priced colourful ‘papier mache’ decorations. These seemed far more authentic than those found at the more popular but tackier Rathausplatz market.

That evening we planned a dinner at the Palmenhaus, attached to the Hofburg palace. This had sounded like a dream restaurant, although upon arriving, we realised it was not part of (as we had imagined) the butterfly house, but next door. The roof was attractive and filled with greenery, but the furniture was very basic, the overall atmosphere disappointing, and the food well overpriced. We opted for a coffee and chose to eat instead at the Hofburg café restaurant. This was a much cosier spot, with great service and food, where we dined on another local dish of goulash, and a final portion of apfelstrudel, as our last memories in Vienna before setting off for home.

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Top: window display in Demel’s. Above: Spanish Riding School, Sachertorte and apfelstrudel at Demel’s, Christmas markets (2) Palmenhaus.

Vienna Day 3: Belvedere, Military History, and the ‘Home of Schnitzel’

Another day, another palace… this time we visited the Belvedere Palace (and adjacent Christmas market!). Again, if you like you can buy entrance into the palace and stables (and museum inside) but to walk around the outside and gardens is free, and there is a good view of Austria from behind the palace. Nearby is also the Military History Museum (or to give it’s more catchier Austrian name, the Heeresgeschichtliches), which we spent several hours at. Admittedly history has never been my favourite subject, but if we go by the history geek Husband’s reviews, this was one of the highlights of the city! It was certainly comprehensive, running from the 16th Century to beyond the Second World War, with a wealth of uniforms, paintings, weapons, and models on display, and even a hot air balloon captured from the French in 1796! Another of the more striking instalments is the car and uniform the emperor Franz Joseph was shot in. There’s plenty of information on display, as well as recorded voice guides, and for those a little more history repelling like me, the interior and exterior architecture is stunning and reason enough to visit.

An alternative plan for this day had been to take a train ride into the mountains to Semmering, on the first trans-alpine railway. Frustratingly, this was incredibly hard to get good advice on, even from enquiring with tourist advice centres and friendly locals, and we heard mixed reports from it being “ugly” to “stunning” to “closed”! Eventually we gave up, but my one regret of our trip is not having spent any time in the surrounding countryside. This is apparently easier to do in the Summer, when visits to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Wachau Valley are also possible. I would recommend carrying out some thorough pre-trip research if this is something you are considering!

That evening we had an early dinner at the very high-demand Figlmüeller restaurant, or “the home of schnitzel”. Customers were constantly turned away from here, so if you plan a visit be sure to book in advance, or go outside of regular mealtimes. Beautiful wooden interior accompanied our traditional dinner, and the schnitzel was tasty, if slightly dry and very oversized in portion! A side helping of potatoes didn’t help the portion size – but was delicious.

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Top: Schnitzel at Figlmüeller. Above: Belvedere and gardens, the Military History Museum and contents.